J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Orchestral Suites

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Felix Prohaska
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Soloists:Karl Reznicek, flute (in BWV 1067)
Individual Works:CD 1:
Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C, BWV 1066
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068

CD 2:
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in b, BWV 1067
Orchestral Suite No. 4 in C, BWV 1069
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:The Bach Guild (Artemis/Vanguard)
Catalog Number:ATM-CD-1245
Year Released/Recorded:1952
Total Playing Time:51:32, 50:22
Comments:Thomas Hubeart said:

This historical recording is part of what is evidently an ongoing series of "Bach Guild" recordings reissued by Artemis Records, the current owner of the Vanguard Classics catalog. Not long ago I reviewed in these pages another of the "Bach Guild" reissues, the 1956 Brandenburgs by the same conductor and orchestra. Like that release, this 1952 recording of the Orchestral Suites (also known as "Overtures") is in monophonic sound; although the sound quality is quite good for that era, it is likely that the lack of stereo sound will prevent this from being most listeners' first choice for a recording of these suites.

However, there is much in this release that will intrigue the Bach lover who is interested in knowing how Bach was being handled half a century ago. Much of the playing is in my opinion very well done, even if I have some minor quibbles here and there about Prohaska's presentation (such as the overly strident basses and bassoons in the fast section of the Overture proper to Suite 1, or the self-conscious pauses between some of the dance pairs, such as the Gavottes in the same suite). Also, as was common at mid-century, the repeats in the Overture movements are generally omitted.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of these discs is the presence of tracks containing alternate recordings of the Overtures proper for Suites 3 and 4. The liner notes inform us that the intention was to put these alternate tracks, which represent an early attempt at "overdotting" the music, at the heads of their respective suites, and then have the conventional version at the end. (The overdotted Overture does appear, correctly, as the opening movement of Suite 3, but the intended order of the Overture tracks in Suite 4 has been inadvertently reversed in the remastering; however, one need only alter the order of playback when hearing CD 2 so that tracks 8 and 13 exchange places.) In the "overdotted" tracks, the music was actually renotated, as the liner notes inform us:

"The Ouvertures [sic] of Suites Nos. 3 and 4 were chosen as most suitable for this experiment which to our knowledge has not been attempted in modern times. Both were entirely re-written in the altered rhythmic notation to avoid misunderstanding on the performers' parts. Since the new notation presented grueling difficulties in execution, many rehearsals were necessary before the recording could be made."

This then is one of the earliest recorded attempts at an authentic performance of these movements. In all candor, the attempt is not completely successful, as it seems clear from listening that 18th century rules about overdotting have been taken a bit over the top by Prohaska and his forces. (It is notable that later artists, such as Reinhard Goebel and his Musica Antiqua Koeln, have actually swung the pendulum back in performing these works, completely refusing to overdot the music.) Nevertheless, hearing Prohaska feeling his way toward a more historically-aware rendition of Bach's scores is a fascinating experience.

For those interested in what mid 20th century performers made of Sebastian and his legacy, this reissue is very much recommended.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Thomas Hubeart
Date First Submitted:04/05/2005