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Bach: *Concerts avec plusieurs instruments I*

After discovering the recent recordings by David Plantier, I sought out more, and I came across an earlier series by the excellent Café Zimmermann of Bach concertos. The first disc in this series borrows its name from the title page of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, yet, only contains one from this set, number 5. (c) 2001 Alpha Productions, 69 minutes. It's Pablo Valetti at the helm of this recording, another violinist that's worked with Plantier on other recordings; he's also #2 with Manfredo Kramer and The Rare Fruits Council. So, if you catch my drift, all these folks have experience with one another. They've also had exposure to Reinhard Goebel, formerly of Musica Antiqua, Köln. Harpsichordist Céline Frisch is featured, herself, prolific of late, producing a number of recordings of solo keyboard works. Her contribution in the outer movements of the first work, BWV 1052, is well recorded, very transparent. These players, too on the outer movements, play with some gusto and pleasing timbres. Nothing overly extrovert, just well-chosen tempi with thin scoring. When you listen, you might just open up their booklet, which is a curious essay on the cover photograph, depicting the "chocolate girl." Opposite that, is a lengthy discussion of coffee, and traditions at the Zimmermann's Coffee Haus in Leipzig. And that's the theme for this recording: Bach's supposed concerts at the coffee house. The article says he might have given 600. What a cool thing to think about: hearing Bach's original works in the leisurely setting of a coffee house, a new fad, but one growing immensely at the time, in popularity. Did Bach play with the energy and youthfulness of Café Zimmermann? More galant in style (for Bach, at least), is his triple concerto for flute, harpsichord, and violin, known better as BWV 1050, Brandenburg Concerto #5. Here, Diana Baroni joins the concertino on flute. While every part is again easy to discern among the texture, the CZ are missing the more masterful, seamless blending of lines among the melodies that better masters have achieved, say, Goebel with MAK in their recording from 1986? Again, the harpsichord in the texture is very easily heard, perhaps more so than in any other recording. I sometimes wish the other two soloists were more "on top" however, without my headphones I might be missing what's going on currently with the flute (first movement, before the big harpsichord solo). For a recording that does so well with balance in the first concerto, I'd have expected better for the last on the CD. A wonderful Bach concerto, BWV 1055, is also presented here. We're not sure what it may have originally appeared for, but in this recording, CZ give us their version with oboe d'amore (it appears in the catalog for harpsichord solo). Antonine Torunczyk is the soloist, with a full, thick, robust tone. The ensemble plays well together, all at a nice toe-tapping tempo. Unfortunately, tuning issues become a little stressful in the slow movement of BWV 1055 (in the oboe). However, the ultimate movement, for as light as it is, takes off with more toe-tapping verve. Overall, enjoyable. Lastly, I auditioned the (most) famous BWV 1042, the E-major violin concerto (my first real exposure to Bach, in it's harpsichord version). The performance is good, but not remarkable for any discernible reason. Again, the soloist sticks-out above the texture so that every detail is very clear. Valetti plays with confidence and a delicious tone, but his playing along with CZ doesn't command our attention. Compared to Bach's same concerto performed in a more recent release by Huggett and Sonnerie, there is somehow a more palatable richness in texture. The recording with Huggett is far more live sounding, the "space" larger, and while definition of the soloist suffers and tempo slows, somehow there is just something more interesting in the Huggett example. I am of course nit-picking. CZ has made a good recording here, generous in length, and in many cases, most technically polished. And when we compare their readings with those of others, this music is so good we can't escape the value in having access to multiple interpretations. I was just perhaps looking for more of the breath-taking spirit in their recording of works by Avison/Scarlatti.

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Biberfan at the Pianoforte