The Slovakian chamber orchestra “Capella Istropolitana” obviously made some great strides during its Naxos period, and their 1989 recordings of Bach’s Orchestral Suites or Overtures are, although definitely not “early music” in the now-used sense, a lot better than their versions of both Vivaldi and Handel recorded a year earlier. Perhaps that is the result of the change of conductor from Jozef Kopelman to Jaroslav Dvorák, himself an accomplished musician and composer who arranged one of the additional pieces on this CD himself. At any rate, the tempi here are anything but “lame-duckish” (my comment on the Handel Concerti Grossi) and compare quite favourably with other recordings of the same repertoire. As the recording quality is more than adequate and the playing of the orchestra accomplished, the result is an entertaining hour of listening (total time 67’22”). Of course, for Bach’s Orchestral Suites there are any number of more historical alternatives, both on modern and on period instruments, and this recording cannot even begin to match the versions by, for example, the English Concert, directed by Trevor Pinnock, or by Reinhard Goebel’s Musica Antiqua Köln (both on Deutsche Grammophon). Even Naxos have re-recorded the Orchestral Suites in more historical garb (but still on modern instruments) with the Cologne Chamber Orchestra directed by Helmut Müller-Brühl, and I suspect that if it is just the Naxos price you are looking for, you should take that superb version, which has been praised by the critics and awarded prizes.
Where the Capella Istropolitana version does score is that the Orchestral Suites are divided up into two CDs which are then complemented by some arrangements of other Bach music by composers/conductors from later centuries. This has little to do with Bach himself, of course, and could be considered anathema by purists, but the pieces do at least show how Bach’s music was received and understood during the next two centuries. Joachim Raff’s orchestral arrangement of Bach’s French Suite No. 3 is, from the point of view of an early music fan, sickly-sweet. Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement of a piece from the Well-Tempered Clavier is very un-Bach-like. Jaroslav Dvorak’s version of the siciliano from Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord does at least have the merit of demonstrating very clearly what a “siciliano” is all about. And last but not least on this first of the two disks there is Bantock’s famous version of “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”, in which we get not only a lively version of the old German chorale but also a rather nice, somewhat jazzy opening that people of my generation may remember for its role in a commercial campaign for a certain brand of champagne! It is to listeners who are looking out for these rather out-of-the-way pieces that I would recommend this CD; if it is Bach himself you are looking for, then please go elsewhere.