Ensemble Sonnerie under Monica Huggett records four (of the five) Bach orchestral suites on Avie. Seemingly now, in 2009-2010, recording engineers have finally found their place, and can record music pristinely. It's the first thing that hits you in this new rendition of Bach's works for orchestra by Ensemble Sonnerie. Sonnerie's smaller forces come across crystal clear in a vibrant recording of BWV 1066-1069. It's an interesting take, this record, because Huggett takes a bare, minimalist approach to offset her recorded rivals. Gone are the supposed later-additions Bach used to dress-up these works over time, the aim then, was to offer the original spirit behind these pieces. Not sure the reasoning for BWV 1068's opening overture, but they take the faster sections at true breakneck speeds. I had a lot of fun with that, and Bach's writing works just as well with the tempo dial turned up. The next movement in Bach's third orchestral suite is his famous Air, here presumably played not only on the so-called G string. What I don't like is that Huggett doesn't take the first violin line solo, instead, Sonnerie plays the movement as one big string piece. Thankfully I have other renditions in my personal catalog that do, in fact, use a solo violin there. If they have a historical reason for playing in unison, well, then I approve. It's best not to let only my personal preferences mar an otherwise fair and balanced review. So yes, BWV 1068 is a loud, festive work with brass (it's been argued whether the definitive brass is trumpets, or perhaps earlier, horns) and timpani. Here that is gone, and you sing along those parts if you like, with Sonnerie's punchy rhythms and foot-tapping fun. What does stand out instead of drums and brass is a really sparkling harpsichord and a sense that these folks are having real fun. It's the kind of music making that makes you pause and simply smile as you really do tap your foot. Aside from Huggett not taking the Air solo, my other complaint with this recording is the lack of BWV 1070 in the mix. Okay, perhaps it wouldn't have fit on one disk. And maybe they didn't include it because it was likely written by W. F. Bach and not his dad. But no bother, the music on this CD has the same intimate joy that I have gotten listening to Bach's "5th" orchestral suite from MAK, on a recording made in the early 1980s. And if Sonnerie in 2010 is making me think of Musica Antiqua, Köln from the 1980s, then that should be hearty praise. Where Sonnerie lacks color without drums and such in BWV 1068 and 1069, they do add color in the form of double reeds in both the second and fourth orchestral suites (BWV 1067, 1069). Rarely, however, do we get the treat of such deft bassoon playing (Bourées, BWV 1069) or technical facility (oboe, Battinerie, BWV 1067). That's right, no flute here. The Sonnerie oboist has made the case for the second suite being originally written for oboe. Sonnerie has made a most refreshing recording. The historical authenticity of their efforts may never be truly tested, but their thinking on a smaller scale along with some talented recording engineers has made a real treat. I highly recommend your future purchase of Sonnerie's Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince.
Update This was first published on 14 March, 2010. This recording has remained a favorite, most especially the second suite featuring oboe over flute. The interpretation and the style in the melody, especially, is first-rate with regards to tempo, nuance, and emphasis.