Wiener Akademie - Bach: Die Orchestersuiten

Saturday 1st October 1994
Wiener Akademie - Bach: Die Orchestersuiten

STYLE: Classical
RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
LABEL: Novalis 1500972

Reviewed by John Irvine

Bach's four orchestral suites were not written as, nor conceived as, a homogenous grouping. The first is dominated by a "French trio" of two oboes and a bassoon which at times reinforces the traditional string sound and at times is at odds with the strings. The second is an example of early chamber music. The third introduces trumpet and tympani, elevating the suite from drawing room to concert hall. All four share a common structure: an extensive 'French' overture at the start of the work followed by a series of 'dances' - the gavotte, the bourree, the gigue, the minuet, etc. German court composers wrote 'overture-suites' of this type by the dozen to satisfy the frenchified tastes of their employers. Until recently most scholars held that the suites were written for courtly amusement. Now it is believed that Bach wrote these works for his concerts with Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, with discussions of the music following each performance. If this is correct then Bach's suites do not represent merely the early 18th century equivalent of 'easy listening' or background music, but rather something which was meant to be regarded as a benchmark of masterpiece by a master craftsman of music, a field of experimental creation, an attempt to illustrate and develop the forms of contemporary music in as many ways as possible. The Wiener Akademie are a Swiss group of musicians playing early and baroque music on period instruments using the playing techniques of that time. The music has a quite different tone to that played on modern instruments (which tend to be more accurate and powerful). For example the brass and tympani sound wonderfully out of tune! Quick tempi are adopted throughout the suites, but since all of the 'repeats' in the music have been observed, this ends up being one of the longest recordings of the suites available, and impossible to fit onto one CD. The drawback here is that you have to buy a double CD set as opposed to two single CDs when you can afford it. Nevertheless a fine set of performances.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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