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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH - The Orchestral Suites - Concerto Köln - 2-Disc Set - 885470000619 - Released: November 2010 - Berlin Classics 0300061

This month, November 2010, the Concerto Köln ensemble celebrates 25 years, and over that time they have recorded for various labels everything from Dall'abaco Concertos, to Mendelssohn String Symphonies, to Mozart Operas, to Symphonies by Rigel, etc ... all recordings that have attracted attention including some that went on to acquire prestigious awards. Therefore it seems perfectly natural for them, during such a momentous occasion, to focus their interpretive skills on one of the Baroque period's most impressive collection of orchestral works, the Orchestral Suites (Ouvertures) by Johann Sebastian Bach.

These suites are constructed on a formula first introduced by Jean-Baptiste Lully, titled "Ouverture avec tous les airs", wherein the Overture of an opera, along with its instrumental interludes or "ballets", were assembled together to form an orchestral suite to be performed on its own. In writing these suites, Bach was trying to emulate the French style by introducing a stately overture followed by a group of dances like the Courante, Bourrée, Gavotte, Sarabande, Air and so on. Therefore this is a more formal composition when compared to, for example, the much more improvisatory and contrapuntal Brandenburg Concertos.

I will be the first one to admit a certain level of indifference to these works, attributing to them a lack of invention and/or imagination. Up until now that is. All the members of Concerto Köln inject a good measure of stately demeanour where it's called for, and a good measure of spirited vitality everywhere else. Take the Overture to the famous No. 3, BWV 1068 for example. Many other recordings sound like soup compared to this one. The trumpets are clean and bright, the kettle drum is bold, those great descending scales in the bass notes are magnificently distinct and the dotted rhythms are clear and sharp. Best of all is that the ensemble playing is a perfect combination of meticulous precision and the feel of a live event. And the ever popular "Air" from that suite, which is all too often played to sound sickly sweet, is in this recording a pristine example of Baroque poise and nobility.

The Berlin Classics recording is clean, open and crisp, and lets all the various orchestral layers and textures shine through naturally, without undue spotlighting or emphasis, and makes this 22 member orchestra sound both fleet-footed and opulent.

Jean-Yves Duperron - November 2010