Café Zimmermann’s Re-scaled, Re-scored, Rewarding Bach

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

This is a recording that may be best enjoyed by listeners who already are fans of Bach and who will recognize some or all of the selections so skillfully arranged and expertly performed here; but no matter your level of experience with the particular works, if you appreciate Bach’s music you will find yourself quite at home and well-entertained throughout this fine program, taken from both instrumental and vocal repertoire.

The pleasure is provided via the expertise of the four musicians of Café Zimmermann–Karel Valter (flute), Pablo Valetti (violin), Petr Skalka (cello), Céline Frisch (harpsichord)–the ensemble’s name derived from Gottfried Zimmermann’s Leipzig coffeehouse where for a time Bach directed the resident Collegium Musicum.

Bach’s music lends itself well to alternate instrumental configurations and functional contexts–after all, Bach himself recognized this (as did the Modern Jazz Quartet and many others)–and here are settings of the Sinfonia and an aria from the cantata BWV 29, arias and a sinfonia from several other cantatas, the organ chorale BWV 668, and the trio sonata from BWV 1079 (Musical Offering). Filling out the program is a trio sonata by C.P.E. Bach and two Bach transcriptions by Mozart. It’s all great music, lovely and effective in its different instrumental guises.

And that’s the point: if you’re going to successfully do something like this, you can’t just plug a violin in here, a cello or flute there, and a keyboard over there. It takes understanding of style and instruments along with some imagination to produce not only variety but interesting balances and contrasts. The Zimmermanns have all of that, preserving the essence of Bach’s music while enabling us to hear melodic lines, fugues, and orchestral movements from a different perspective.

One of the better known selections is the gorgeous aria “Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen” from cantata BWV 36. It adapts easily to the Zimmermann ensemble, with the original scoring being for (muted) violin solo, soprano, and continuo. Here, the (unmuted) violin solo is retained with the “soprano” part played by Karel Valter’s gorgeous, warm-toned traverso (Baroque wooden flute), supported by Petr Skalka’s expertly articulated cello line. Without the sung text (and with only the three players) we more easily notice the points of close interaction with the violin, and Bach’s melody comes across more as a duet with the violin than a solo with accompaniment.

Another important feature of the recording is the sound, which impresses with its natural, vibrant, realistic presence, allowing us to hear and appreciate the colors and textures of wood and strings along with the exceptional music and thoughtful performances. Highly recommended.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: The Imaginary Music Book of J.S. Bach

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