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Not a theorbo in sight,
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This review is from: Bach: Orchestral Suites (Audio CD)
Sigi Kuijken's "Petite Bande" has been around for forty years now, but though it still contains one or two old stagers besides Sigi himself, it is today predominantly a young group, and well up to the highest standards of contemporary HIP performance - indeed, in my view, it sets those standards. Its playing is not so immediately attention-grabbing as, say, Giovanni Antonini's "Gardinio Armonico" but that is because it eschews the ear-ticking but entirely anachronistic tricks such bands use - the express-train speeds, the bass-heavy strumming continuo, the magic stardust of close-miked harps and theorbos. What we get instead is simply excellent musicianship - perfect tuning and ensemble, a lively sense of rhythm, and a strong sense of both understanding and taking pleasure in the music they play.
This recording comes three years after the group's ground-breaking recording of the "Brandenburgs" and uses some of the same innovations. Here we still get un-tampered-with natural trumpets, and a bass line manned by "basses de violon" rather than cellos, giving a strong bass at 8' pitch - Kuijken reckons 16' instruments only came into use in such music later on. There isn't a theorbo in sight. The violin lines are doubled, as befits this (for Bach) rather conventional orchestral music.
The third and fourth suites, with trumpets and drums, make their usual striking effect - the "Air on a G string" is performed with affection - but the real heart of the disc is the B minor flute suite, particularly the famous "Badinerie", here played by Sigi's brother Barthold - not at the frantic tempo flautists often try, but simply at a good lively pace, with plenty of rhythmic bounce. He and the Band let Bach speak, giving much pleasure in the process.
Recordings of the suites are legion, but this one ranks high, if what you want is sane musicianship and performance practice that Bach would have recognised. It is also contained on one disc by omitting some repeats. A possible alternative for a HIP performance would be the Café Zimmerman series, slightly more big-band and high-speed, with the suites spread over several discs in mixed programmes (as they might have been in the Leipzig coffee house).
The CD is well recorded, though I think it a shame that Accent seem to have given up on SACD which they did rather well. They are still using those irritating cardboard CD holders which shed their booklets at the slightest touch.
PS. If anyone has (like me) enjoyed Sigiswald Kuijken's performances over the years you may like to visit his website - http://www.lapetitebande.be/index.php - which offers an opportunity to support the work of his group, recently deprived of its funding by the Flemish regional authorities.