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Concerts avec plusieurs instruments - volume VI

Bach Concertos Café Zimmermann completes their cycle of the Bach concertos and orchestral suites on Alpha. On this release they include: * Orchestral Suite in D, BWV 1069 * Concerto pour clavecin in A major, BWV 1055 * Concerto for triple oboe, horns, and piccolo violin BWV 1046 "Brandenburg" * Concerto pour quatre clavecins in D minore, BWV 1065 First a few notes about the recording in general. As usual, this ensemble is consistent. They're not fond of slowing down for pauses or affect. In addition, they choose some interesting tempos. All are on the quick side, especially with regard to middle movements. Some listeners might really take notice of this, thinking perhaps, that their pulses run faster than most other humans. The pulse of the music is on the fast track all around on this CD, and I have mixed feelings about this. In too many cases, I've felt that middle concerto movements could be taken faster in other recordings I own. I've been a fan of the more speedy of our HPP ensembles whom aren't afraid to push tempo. In this case, I first was like "wow! This is awesome." But then there were moments where the ensemble felt more like a train that wouldn't stop. Music isn't a train. My philosophy about performance is that it should always be organic, unless you are specifically trying to imitate a machine (something can be said for this second idea in music we might term "minimalist" from the 20th century). I don't mean to say romantic in the sense that we should coddle every affective cadence for finding an excess of milk and honey. But there are breathable phrases which need time for… breath… before the next phrase. This ensemble by in large wasn't pausing for anything. It happens in the Allegros (Allegri?) too. That's my general criticism to their approach. You might disagree with me. And now the works by themselves. The opening Overture sparkles with CZ's trumpets. The timpani are punctuating through the texture just right. At 11 minutes across, this is not the slowest performance (the slowest from my own collection clocks in around 13 minutes from the New London Consort. By comparison, Musica Antiqua Köln is at 10:30. It feels swift, and I think the tempo choice and the dotted rhythms are bouncy and really perfect. String distribution is 6/2/2/1, with three each of oboe and trumpets. The Bourées bounce like no other, and by now on the second track, you feel as if this is almost holiday music. It's festive to the core. The bassoon (Carles Vallès) comes through very clearly, and it's a wonderful contribution. His tone is at once both buttery and warm. The trumpets and drums really help the ensemble with dynamics. This is perhaps one of the most extrovert from this ensemble on really making something of dynamic contrasts, and these additional colors and their volume help the ensemble convincingly pepper the lines with interest through dynamic contrasts. Oddly, I felt portions of the Réjouissance fobbed a little with tempo variations. When the big boys (timpani and trumpets) drop out, it sounded as if the oboes and strings were rushing ahead to revive an earlier faster tempo. I likely will have to relive and re-listen with this movement to determine if what I'm suggesting is correct. BWV 1055 is performed with one player per part, and Ms. Frisch at the keyboard. The clavecin has a kind of brassy flavor to it, not the brightest instrument, but one with some "roundness" to the tone. It's not my favorite harpsichord sound, honestly, but it does cut through the texture fine. I feel they kept an honest balance between this instrument and the strings. In the middle movement, Pinnock clocks in at 5:41. Egarr with AAM, at 5:35. Frisch? 3:49! Why not? Bach called it a Larghetto and not a Largo after all. I like their opening movement's reading, but either the ensemble or the recording engineer should have provided us with more bass. I would have had the bass player come out of the texture a little more. I'm really stretching here for criticisms… but wanting a little more foundation is the only thing missing from this reading. Their third movement is in the middle, in terms of timings/tempo. I like the opening phrase from the strings; they give it the right shape, and their interjections throughout the movement are witty and fun. The solo instrument is allowed to shine here. Brandenburg Concerto #1 has some interesting contributions from the horns. Thomas Muller and Raul Diaz are the players, set more stereo left. At times they are shouting for attention; at other times, they are more civil. Above all, they come across as rustic, which I am 100% in support of, rather than coming off as proper "French" horns. I had hints at the start that they may in fact "out do" the brashness of the horns we get in Il Giardino Armonico's reading, or that of La Stravaganza Hamburg. Not really. Pablo Valetti didn't set out here to make this recording "the most extroverted Bach recording with horns to date". Instead, there's enough rustic flavor to pique our interest and to convey the flavor of the hunt. Let's look at the timings for the III and IV movements: * Pickett: 4:24, 8:22 * Goebel: 4:02, 7:41 * Alessandrini: 4:17, 8:35 * Café Zimmermann: 4:03, 5:47 Am I making my case yet about them liking fast tempi? The fourth movement pushes decorum, even for me. It's faster than fast. The horns are so bubbly. It should be heard. Buy this CD already. The triple stopping in the third movement from the solo violin I feel should sound like a struggle. It's like a small, heroic figure that's trying to be noticed… duh duh duh duh… Valetti is too kind in his treatment of this part. Rodolfo Richter played more the part with the AAM when I heard them live several years ago. We could see the struggle on this face. The part should be rustic. Bach scored it for a town fiddle, not a fine Stainer. Listening to this concerto was a lot of fun. Between the rustic horns, the fly-by-night tempi, and the technical abilities of this ensemble to keep it all together, there is plenty to enjoy. And then we get to the jewel in Bach's oeuvre, the four keyboard concerto, BWV 1065. This is an awesome piece of music. Of course, it really isn't Bach's, but an arrangement from Vivaldi's op. 3, L'estro armonico. This piece has such drama and energy that it was fitting to end Café Zimmermann's reading of Bach's instrumental works with it. The opening is quiet. Four fragile harpsichords, then Boom! Let the drama commence with that big string chord. But… what's this? CZ spoils the drama leading up to that chord. They're hell-bent on speeding down the Baroque concerto highway. Let's compare the first movement. This is getting fun. * Pinnock: 4:04 * Café Zimmermann: 3:25 * Biondi, playing the Vivaldi version on 4 violins: 3:31 * Dantone, Vivaldi: 3:26 Zimmermann is up there with the feistiest of Italian violinists. Zimmermann misses here, I feel, with not loud enough Boom! at the beginning when the strings come in. That's what we get with 1/part strings. More bass please. I'd also even slow it down a hair. The way Vivaldi has written this one, I think they might actually have been able to use more strings. The solo parts really don't have the strings at the same time; and the LOUD/soft contrasts between solo/ritornello sections would have been heightened. I was a sophomore in college when I heard this performed at the Eastman School in Rochester. It's a piece that really comes alive when you're sitting there, seeing and hearing the different instruments take over for their part. In a stereo recording, something is lost. I fault the engineers here for not better differentiating, spatially, the different soloists (Fontana, Boerner2, and Frisch). The different harpsichords do have different sounds, for sure, and that helps. I applaud CZ for plowing through the middle movement. I honestly hit skip most times on my equipment. The last movement sparkles. Nothing is more baroque than all of that metallic plucking. It's like a pit of happy but "agitatatingly" frisky porcupines. The performance here doesn't disappoint, but I am reminded again about my disappointment with the recording. The keyboards sound a tad too distant. If we were looking at this through a camera lens, we might say "too much bokeh on the harpsichords, focus is on strings." What remains however is a damned spirited performance, and a fitting end to a successful series of recordings. I hope you'll convinced to try this recording, if you haven't already bought-into the Café Zimmermann fan club!

Two New CDs...

German Chamber Music before Bach