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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 1750)
Suite No. 4 in D Major BWV 1069, (1725)
Suite No. 1 in C Major BWV 1066, (1725)
Suite No. 3 in D Major BWV 1068, (1725)
Suite No. 2 in B Minor BWV 1067, (1725)
Christopher Krueger (flute) in BWV1067
Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman (using period instruments)
recorded in Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, 24-26 Sept 2003 DDD
TELARC CD-80619 [7332"]

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We can usually count on Martin Pearlman for intelligent, dynamic "period" performances of Baroque and Classical repertoire, but this set of the Bach Suites is oddly variable.

The freshly reconsidered Second Suite, the best "period" rendition of it I've heard, is the set's highlight. The opening of the Ouverture, played at a sprightly alla breve, has a real French-overture feeling; in the ensuing Allegro, Christopher Krueger's unexpectedly dark-hued Baroque flute stands out in crisp relief against the strings. Pearlman, taking his cue from the key of B minor, offers an unusually serious "take" on the ensuing sequence of shorter movements. The Rondeau is meditative, the Polonaise and its Double grave and dignified, the Menuet sombrely elegant; yet the underlying dance pulse remains clear in each case.

The First Suite, while less explicitly imaginative, is equally successful. The bright, reedy ensemble sound is appealing, and the tempi are fluidly motile. (In all the slow introductions, incidentally, Pearlman's brisk speeds furnish the written rhythms with a lively "snap," thus rendering the entire double-dotting controversy irrelevant.) The Courante and Gavottes thrive on phrasing which shapes whole bars as "upbeats" to others, thus building a long line rather than bogging down in individual beats. The Menuets are too fast for dancing, but suggest the proper stateliness.

Trouble creeps in thereafter. After the surging majesty of its opening, the Ouverture of the Third Suite chugs along smoothly and a bit uneventfully. The strings play the famous Air without vibrato, but thoughtful layering of dynamic levels, both within and between phrases, convey the sense of a singing line. There's an uncomfortable moment at 0:39 of the Bourrée, where the trumpets enter a bit sluggishly - as if anticipating the ritard on the repeat - which should have been redone.

The Fourth Suite, alas, is more or less a wash. The rhythms feel less strongly grounded than elsewhere: the Ouverture's running triplet theme sounds shapeless, and the start of the Bourrée, while together, is mushy. This sequence also occasions Pearlman's single clear tempo miscalculation, where he unwillingly has to slow down for the bassoon's running figures, which the Baroque bassoon doesn't project with the modern instrument's clear definition anyhow. The Menuets flow too casually, and even the Réjouissance lacks zest.

The album presents the suites in chronological order of composition (4-1-3-2) rather than in straight numerical order, adding insult to injury by leading off with the weakest performance. (The intent was presumably to separate the two "big" suites and so avoid a surfeit of D major.) Telarc's sound is unexceptionable.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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