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The Imaginary Music Book of J.S. Bach
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Wir danken Dir, Gott, BWV29: Sinfonia in D [3:26]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Trio Sonata in B-flat, Wq.161/2 [17:54]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Adagio and Fugue, K404a (after JS Bach BWV527 and BWV1080) [10:27]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Wir danken Dir, Gott , BWV29: Aria Hallelluja, Stärk’ und Macht [4:42]
Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen, BWV182: Sinfonia in G [1:52]
Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV169: Aria Gott soll allein mein Herze haben [5:25]
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV36: Aria Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen [6:17]
Ein ungefärbt Gemüthe, BWV24: Aria Ein ungefärbt Gemüthe [3:06]
Sonate sopr’il Soggetto Reale, BWV1079 [16:58]
Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit, BWV668 [4:17]
Café Zimmermann
rec. November 2020, Temple Saint-Jean, Mulhouse
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
ALPHA 766 [74:33]

There are any number of recordings with titles such as ‘50 Best Bach’ or ‘100 Best Bach’. Useful as they may be to converting the unfamiliar, I wouldn’t recommend them for that in preference to, say, a good recording of the Brandenburg Concertos. As it happens, Café Zimmermann have given us one of those best Brandenburgs, and at an affordable price on a pair of Alpha CDs, now available as a download only, with booklet (Alpha 300 – DL News 2015/9). Now, rather than a modern editor’s choice of the best of Bach, they bring us a selection of his music which the composer himself seems to have been especially fond of, together with music by two Bach-influenced composers of the next generation, CPE Bach and Mozart. It’s thanks to CPE that we believe the final work on this album to have been one of his father’s favourites, since he appended it to the Art of Fugue when he published it, and it’s thanks to JSB visiting his son CPE at the court of Frederick the Great that he composed the Musical Offering from which the penultimate item is taken.

No mean musician himself, the king played Bach the theme which he asked him to embellish in the Offering; though he seems not to have expected much to come of it – the notes suggest that he never actually played the sonata embedded within it – Bach presented him with one of his greatest works. It also happens to lend itself to a variety of treatments, including the small-scale but by no means bare bones interpretation here. Some versions make the Offering into a predominantly intellectual exercise. Of course, it was that, but the best interpretations also make it approachable, and Café Zimmermann give us one of the best of these in their performance of the sonata. My only regret is that they didn’t record the whole Musical Offering.

The CPE Bach Trio Sonata builds on the style of his father’s own sonata in the Offering, JSB there mixing his established polyphonic style with something like the galant style which his son would epitomise, and the Adagio and Fugue, a transcription of music by JSB which Mozart wrote into his own notebook, is effectively restored to Bach in this version.

No transcription was required for the sonata on the royal theme or for CPE’s trio sonata, but some of the other music doesn’t come off quite so well. The opening work scales down the Sinfonia of Cantata No 29 and what it gains in liveliness can’t quite match the appeal of the re-imagining included in a recent recording of ‘Bach Organ Concertos’. He didn’t, in fact, compose any such concertos, but a Ramée recording from Bart Jacobs (organ) and Les Muffati has brought a number of movements from the cantatas together to fashion a convincing programme (RAM1804: Recommended – review Spring 2019/1). If my saying that the new recording is lively seems to imply that Jacobs and his team are anything but, or that Café Zimermann are superficial, neither could be further from the truth; both will get your feet tapping in a way that it’s hard to imagine the staid Lutherans of Leipzig in the Nikolaikirche behaving in 1731.

To say that this one item comes over ‘not quite so well’ is a very comparative term in considering the new Alpha recording as a whole. The athletic playing paves the way for a very enjoyable programme, the latter part consisting mainly of movements from cantatas in convincing instrumental guise. It’s no longer believed that Bach intended to close his Art of Fugue with Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit, but many performers do just that; it constitutes a very fitting ending for his last great work and it makes for a very fine conclusion to Café Zimmermann’s programme, demonstrating that they can do the emotional and spiritual music as well as the lively pieces. But we already knew that from their performance of the Mozart Adagio and Fugue.

The recording is very good and the booklet, if a little fancifully written at times, adds to the value of this new release. One of the best of Café Zimmermann’s very fine recordings, with Pablo Valetti and Céline Frisch the binary stars around which the other luminaries revolve in the harmony of the spheres.

Brian Wilson

Café Zimmermann:
Karel Valter (transverse flute)
Pablo Valetti (violin)
Petr Skalka (cello)
Céline Frisch (harpsichord)

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