Café Zimmermann - The Imaginary Music Book of J.S. Bach - BBC Music Magazine

There’s nothing ‘imaginary’ about the notebook Bach compiled in part to hothouse his son Wilhelm Friedemann; nor about the two he presented to his wife Anna Magdalena (the second, a repository of family favourites, largely written in her own hand). But what, wonders Café Zimmermann, if Johann Sebastian had assembled one for himself? A quasi-diary shadowing his life in music. Fielding a flute, violin and continuo configuration, there’s no surprise to find the mighty Trio Sonata from the Musical Offering taking pride of place – its galant flirtations neatly contextualised by CPE Bach’s B flat Sonata composed the following year. Scrupulously calculated transcriptions of cantata movements are spliced with music Mozart might have adapted for the Baroque-loving Baron Swieten; and to end there’s the supposed deathbed tweaking of an organ chorale prelude pondering the hereafter.

The disc opens with the Sinfonia to Cantata 29, played with such scintillating verve that the absence of trumpets matters not a jot – the organ obligato, translated to harpsichord, is despatched with nimble élan by Céline Frisch (Karel Valter’s flute adding extra twinkle). And CPE Bach’s conversational suppleness positively beams in the face of the more sober, twice-reimagined (Mozart and Café Zimmermann) excerpt from The Art of Fugue. A purposeful spring in the step of BWV 1079’s opening Largo sets the tone for an approach to the Sonata that studiously avoids back-lighting the so-called ‘Royal’ theme in overemphatic colours; but the chorale prelude emerges a little self-consciously as the players seeks to avoid undue reverence. An album, nonetheless, full of suave delights – and the recording is top notch.

BBC Music Magazine
01 December 2021