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Johann Sebastian BACH: 4 Overtures (BWV 1066 - 1069)

I Barocchisti
Dir: Diego Fasolis
rec: May 2001, Lugano, Auditorium 'Stello Moro' RSI
Arts 47649-8 (© 2006) (70'24")

Overture No. 1 in C (BWV 1066); Overture No. 2 in b minor (BWV 1067); Overture No. 3 in D (BWV 1068); Overture No. 4 in D (BWV 1069)

"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 be recorded as part of complete recordings of the cantatas 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 is another German composer who wrote a large number of this kind of overtures. 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 it seems there are reasons to believe at least three of them were composed in Leipzig. The first Overture is probably the oldest, which is reflected by the scoring for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo, which was the common scoring of 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 b.c. with a solo part for the transverse flute reflects the growing popularity of that instrument in Germany in the 1730's. It has been suggested 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. And considering the fact that the so-called 'crisis' of 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 doesn't sound as funeral music for once.

Actually that air is the only part of this recording I really enjoyed, and the only reason I'm going to keep this disc. But how could I recommend a disc because of just 3 minutes and 36 seconds?

Johan van Veen (© 2006)

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