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Dip Your Ears, No. 137 (Orchestral Suites Reconstructed)

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Orchestral Suites
M.Huggett / Ensemble Sonnerie / G.X.Ruiz

Monica Hugget is one of the baroque music scene’s most cherished pioneer-veterans, co-founder of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with Ton Koopman and founding member of the Academy of Ancient Music, she also worked with Trevor Pinnock and his English Concert and has led Toronto based Tafelmusik. She is currently the head of the Portland Baroque Orchestra and the Ireland Baroque Orchestra and of course the Ensemble Sonnerie which she founded, then still a Trio, in 1982.

When someone like Monica Huggett brings out a recording of Bach’s Orchestral Suites it’s a notable event, not the least because new and exciting recordings of the Suites—or Concert-Ouvertures—are rather more scarce than new recordings of the Brandenburg- or Keyboard Concertos. It’s also notable because Mme. Huggett goes her own ways in reconstructing those three suites that we only have in transcriptions from now-lost-originals. The b-minor Suite is transposed back into its original key of a-minor and the solo flute replaced with an oboe—a version for which Huggett argues persuasively in her liner notes, and much more persuasively, still, through the performance. The Third and Fourth Suite don’t receive their Trumpet’n’Drums treatment, which are later adaptations. At least according to Joshua Rifkin, whose argumentation Huggett follows where it makes not just theoretical, but also musical sense.

So many new aspects to these Suites then—but their gorgeous familiarity is overwhelming to the point where we scarcely notice the differences, except in direct comparison. (And who listens to music like that?) But even just for the music itself—Bach’s most easily enjoyable, this disc is a little gem. With three violins per section, the HIP crew of Ensemble Sonnerie (performing on period instruments and at standard baroque pitch of 415 Hz), doesn’t fall into the skinny-extreme trend-trap, but listens to what makes for the best balance among instruments. A sound decision, as it were. And Gonzalo Ruiz’ gorgeous oboe tone alone, given unique prominence in the reconstruction—might justify adding this Bach disc to one’s collection, even if it already contains the equally fine Boston Baroque, English Baroque Soloists, or Musica Antiqua Cologne versions.