"In our imagination the picture of Johann Sebastian Bach as the
most important baroque composer and Cantor of the Thomaskirche
is predominant", according to Klemens Hippel in the
programme notes of this recording. Is it? I doubt it. Yes,
the St Matthew Passion is frequently performed and recorded,
but the church cantatas? Only a handful have become really
well-known, but most of them have only been recorded as part
of complete cantata cycles and are hardly ever performed.
In comparison, the products of Bach's activities as a composer
of instrumental music are far better known, and to a wider
audience, than most of his sacred works. And that is certainly
the case with the four orchestral suites or, as Bach himself
called them, 'Overtures' - after the opening movement.
These Overtures are proof of the growing interest in French music
in Germany in the first decades of the 18th century. Bach
was neither the first nor the last composer of overtures
in French style. His friend Georg Philipp Telemann was another
German composer who wrote a large number of this kind of
work. Whether Bach wrote more than these four is unknown.
It is generally thought that Bach wrote his Overtures during
his time as Kapellmeister at the court in Cöthen, but there
is reason to believe that at least three of them were composed
The first is probably the oldest, which is reflected by the
scoring for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo,
which was the common scoring for works of this kind. In the
third and fourth three trumpets and timpani are added, and
the fourth Overture has a third oboe part as well. The second
Overture is completely different: it is the most galant of
the four, and the scoring for strings and basso continuo
with a solo part for the transverse flute reflects the growing
popularity of that instrument in Germany in the 1730s. It
has been suggested that this part was written for Pierre-Gabriel
Buffardin, the famous flautist at the court in Dresden.
The large number of recordings in the catalogue shows the popularity
of these four Overtures. Considering the so-called 'crisis'
in the recording industry is partly due to the fact that
the same repertoire is recorded over and over again one has
to ask whether a new recording is really needed. The chance
that a new recording is technically better than any of the
recordings already available is very slim. The only reason
left then is an interpretation which offers a new approach.
I can't find anything of the sort here. In fact, this is
one of the most disappointed recordings of the Overtures
I have heard for some time.
In general, there is a lack of differentiation between 'good' and
'bad' notes, and the articulation often leaves much to be
desired. In regard to dynamics this recording is as flat
as a pancake: there is too little dynamic difference between
notes, but there is also a lack of dynamic shade on single
notes. Now and then tasteful ornamentation is added, but
without any consistency. The tempi are often unsatisfying,
and some movements are outright boring, like the rondeau
from the Overture No 2 or, even worse, the B section of the
overture from the fourth Suite. On the other hand, the air
from the 3rd Overture is played in a beautiful andante tempo.
As a result it does not for once sound funereal.
Actually that air is the only part of this recording I really enjoyed,
and the only reason I'm going to keep this disc. How could
I recommend a disc because of just 3 minutes and 36 seconds?