from the Amazon.com Web page for this album
At the beginning of this year, American Bach Soloists (ABS) released the latest recording in their Masterworks Series. The album collected the four orchestral suites of Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 1066–1069. However, the recording does not present them in “catalog order.” Instead, the order is BWV 1069 in D major, BWV 1066 in C major, BWV 1068 in D major, and BWV 1067 in B minor. The two D major suites have “trumpets and percussion” scoring with parts for three trumpets and timpani. BWV 1067 is best known for its solo flute work, while a pair of oboes provide the wind resources for BWV 1066. As of this writing, this album is available through Amazon.com but only for MP3 download. ABS has its own Web page for those who wish to purchase the recording in physical form.
Bach himself titled these compositions “Overtures.” Each has an extended slow opening followed by a fast fugal section, the usually structure for for “introductory” music. The remaining movements have the titles of dance forms, which constitute the “suites.” Current thinking is that all four of these pieces were composed in Leipzig for Bach’s Collegium Musicum colleagues, suggesting that Gottfried Zimmermann’s coffee house was large enough to hold a group larger than a few players “jamming” their way through works on a chamber music scale. To be fair, however, the resources required for the orchestral suites are probably on the same scale as those that were required for The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, which has been performing regularly on Monday nights at the Village Vanguard since 1965 and is now known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. It would not be surprising to learn that Zimmermann’s clientele was as serious about listening as Vanguard customers were.
The ABS players are led by their Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas. Thomas clearly knows how to capture the spirit of dance in all of those post-overture movements; and he recognizes the characteristics that make each dance form unique. One might not be able to learn much about the specific steps, but one can definitely appreciate how each dance form establishes its own individual traits. The one exception is the presence of an Air in BWV 1068, which almost seems like a calm pause that follows the energetic fugue before the dancing gets under way.
Bearing in mind that there is no shortage of recordings of these suites currently available, one can still appreciate the collegial spirit that permeates the performances on this album, even if that spirit cannot be enhanced with a cup of Zimmermann’s coffee.