There was a time – at least until 1960 – when Bach’s ensemble music was a familiar sight on the concert programs of symphonic orchestras. The musicians of an ensemble such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam understood this music, and how to distinguish it from Mozart or Mahler or Stravinsky, but concerns of historical authenticity took pieces such as the Orchestral Suites away from them, and only in the last decade or so have they made a partial return, now that certain basic principles of style have been relearnt, and dogmatic attitudes abandoned. During his time as music director of the Concertgebouw, Riccardo Chailly observed that the orchestra had not been ‘let loose’ on this music since the time of Eduard van Beinum.
Going back to Van Beinum’s Bach is a refreshing experience. Without the lightning-fast tempi of many modern versions, or the expansive climaxes and Romantic slides of his predecessor at the Concertgebouw, Willem Mengelberg, he directs sprightly and affectionate accounts of the Orchestral Suites. The famous ‘Air’ from the Third Suite is as tender as the trumpet-led Overture to open the Fourth is majestic.
In the dance movements of the suites, especially the flute-led Second, van Beinum’s reputation as a collaborative musician is upheld by pacing that unfolds naturally and balancing that gives the wind soloists their deserved prominence, backed by a softly luxurious if now unfashionable carpet of string sound. These Philips mono recordings were made relatively late in van Beinum’s career, during June 1955 and April 1956. They were reissued some years ago within a larger box of the conductor’s work, now unavailable: this is the first time they have been made available on a single CD, which plays for over 82 minutes.
Such rhythmically buoyant and uplifting performances are complemented by several other Eloquence reissues dedicated to the work of van Beinum, including a September 2017 disc of Handel (ELQ4825557) and previous releases of Haydn (ELQ4768483), Mozart concertos and symphonies (ELQ4825525) and Berlioz (ELQ4825569).