Bach: Orchestral Suites Nos. 1-3 (CD review)
Philip Ledger is an exacting conductor, and the English Chamber Orchestra is a meticulous ensemble, so you would expect anything they did to be pretty good. These Bach Orchestral Suites are, indeed, fairly good, but they don't really soar the way they should. They don't have the high spirits or lively inflections we hear from the very best performances on record.
I don't suppose we have much right to expect a truly classic interpretation from a re-rereleased, budget-priced issue originally recorded in 1991, but I was still mildly disappointed in what I heard. Every note seems to be in place, every instrument is in precise accompaniment with every other instrument, every tempo and every phrase seems calculated for maximum correctness.
Which is perhaps the problem: Ledger has squeezed the life out of the pieces, leaving them sounding more than a bit dull and ordinary. It's more of an academic run-through than a joyous event. Moreover, we get only three of the four suites Bach wrote, not unusual since most sets spread the works over two discs, but here there is no second disc.
Finally, there is the sound, which is also more than a bit lifeless. It is largely devoid of strong dynamics, bass, or internal definition, appearing instead as bright and lean and not a little leaden. Compare this to Neville Marriner's renditions of all four suites on a single, mid-priced Decca disc, and you see in Marriner a more sparkling manner, a more robust sound, and a far better proposition all the way around.
And speaking of attractive alternative recordings in these works, one might also consider Jordi Savall and Les Concert des Nations on Astree, Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Martin Pearlman and the Boston Baroque Orchestra on Telarc, Raymond Leppard and the English Chamber Orchestra on Philips, and Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, among others.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.