Bach, Orchestral Suites (Ouvertures), Freiburger Barockorchester, P. Müllejans, G. von der Goltz
(released on November 8, 2011)
HMC 902113.14 | 93'42"
Although the string playing is bright and unified, as one expects of the Freiburg musicians, it is the woodwind performances that stand out here, including several delightful bassoon solos (Javier Zafra) and bubbly oboes (Katharina Arfken, Andreas Helm, and Thomas Meraner), recorded with key clicks and all. Flutist Karl Kaiser absolutely dazzles in the chatty Badinerie of the second suite, paced as quickly as the breathless version from Concerto Köln (Berlin Classics -- on Naxos ML) but trumps it by adding the most ornate embellishments ever witnessed by these ears in this piece, probably the most famous in the four suites. The only piece that might be better known, the often-oversweetened air from no. 3, is given a legato, almost sotto voce feel, liltingly Andante rather than soupy.
These qualities place it among, but do not necessarily displace, the best recent competition. My favorites remain the recordings of Bach Collegium Japan (BIS), on which Masaaki Suzuki perfectly captured the regal qualities of the fourth suite (clarion trumpets and the best-placed crescendo swells, which give the pedal points delicious tension), my favorite in the set, not to mention a suave, almost laid-back, but still very fast Badinerie; Jordi Savall's recording with Le Concert des Nations (Alia Vox -- listen on YouTube) has a grand and slow, dignified quality (as in the slow section of the first suite's opening movement) and some cool figuration on the harpsichord, although the intonation overall is not as perfect and the trumpets are not as polished; Diego Fasolis takes some very fast tempos with his group, I Barocchisti (Arts -- listen on YouTube), which makes the third suite sparkle with energy, without quite sounding clipped (as Café Zimmermann recording of no. 3 does just a bit). The recording by Tafelmusik is also good but omits the second suite, and the Freiburgers' competition on the Harmonia Mundi label, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, is a reissue of an older recording, good but not among my favorites.