Johann Sebastian Bach (1685- 1750)
OUVERTURES - The 4 Orchestral Suites
Ouverture III (Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major), BWV 1068
Ouverture I (Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major), BWV 1066
Ouverture II (Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor), BWV 1067
Ouverture IV (Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major), BWV 1069
Bach Collegium Japan
Liliko Maeda, flauto traverso (BWV 1067)
Masaaki Suzuki, direction
recording: 26th-30th October 2003 at Kobe Shoin Women's University, Japan
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Three Cello Concertos - H. Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan
These performances are magnificent, and offering two SACDs for the price of one makes them a good deal too. There have been many fine recordings of these works, naturally, but few offer this much satisfaction on purely sonic terms--not just the engineering, which is state-of-the-art in both stereo and multi-channel formats, but the actual textures and colors that Masaaki Suzuki coaxes from his ensemble. In truth, it's difficult to make this music sound well.
On modern instruments, trumpets and drums tend to muddy the textures without penetrating as they should. Period instruments, on the other hand, offer a variety of problems, including a routinely clattery and overbearing harpsichord continuo, scruffy strings that make the famous "Air" sound positively anorexic, and iffy flute intonation in the B minor suite.
Miraculously, Suzuki has solved all of these problems. His harpsichord is clear but pleasant-toned and discretely balanced. The strings have sufficient body and richness of tone to compete successfully with the oboes and cushion the trumpets and drums in the two works that require them.
Textures are wonderfully transparent, and rhythms are ideally clear. The arrangement of the works, with the two big D major suites framing the other two, and the "flute suite" performed with solo strings, makes excellent sense and offers maximum contrast for continuous listening. In this latter work, Liliko Maeda is a terrific soloist, pure in timbre and gifted with the ability to really make the music dance--nowhere more so than in the famous concluding Badinerie, so often mercilessly breathy and rushed, but here the very embodiment of sly wit.
Suzuki's handling of all four initial overtures deserves special mention. He catches the regal, aristocratic quality of the music as have few others, evoking the spirit of Handel (as in the Royal Fireworks Music) as much as Bach. That doesn't mean his tempos are slow or lethargic--far from it.
But the music has gravitas and a bigness of conception that's so often missing from period-instrument performances, particularly from the "less is more" school (for the record, Suzuki has six violins, and two each of violas and cellos).
Nothing sounds rushed, not even the lively central episodes, which are always gracefully phrased as well as full of energy. In the D major suites, the trumpets and timpani cut through the texture as they should, but Suzuki makes their parts fit logically into their surroundings rather than encouraging the usual, overbearing "screech, blast, and bang" that so often passes for period style.
The various dances are also extremely well characterized, with tempos excellently chosen to emphasize the rhythmic qualities of each. The famous "Air" from the Third suite is serene but never static.
The bourees have a nicely physical quality to the rhythm, while the Second suite's Sarabande is wonderfully supple and elegant. The program concludes with a smashing Rejouissance from the Fourth suite, a telling reminder of the fact that Bach conceived these pieces as courtly entertainment. In other words, Suzuki does more than just play the music very well: he evokes its purpose, social milieu, and lavishness of content in such a way that brings the listener as close as possible to Bach himself, and to the circles in which he worked. In this oft-recorded repertoire, that is a tremendous achievement. [9/28/2005]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com