Café Zimmermann presented an excellent concert at the Library of Congress on Saturday night. The European historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble, named for Gottfried Zimmermann's coffeehouse in Leipzig (where Telemann and Bach led concerts by the town's Collegium Musicum), played a delectable program of concertos by J. S. Bach and his son C. P. E. Bach. Seven of the group's core members participated, with the third violin playing only on the opening piece. There were a few surprising infelicities of tuning throughout the evening, but especially in the opening work, in spite of lengthy attempts to tune the instruments before each piece -- violinist Pablo Valetti ascribed these difficulties to the Library's forced air heating system. Those minor problems did little, however, to detract from an archly conceived and impressively executed performance.
C. P. E. Bach, Symphonies and Cello Concertos
J. S. Bach, Concertos, Vol. 1
J. S. Bach, Concertos, Vol. 2
J. S. Bach, Concertos, Vol. 3
Goldberg Variations/Canons, C. Frisch
Pablo Valetti opened as soloist in the A minor violin concerto by Bach père, BWV 1041. The languidly paced, luscious-toned Andante was the centerpiece, framed by a restrained first movement and a brisk third movement. The high point of the concert was at the end of the first half, the D minor harpsichord concerto, BWV 1052, with Céline Frisch as soloist. I have praised her recording of the Goldberg Variations before, and she dispatched the virtuosic demands of this part with ease, especially with her tension-free crossed hands technique. The rigidly maintained pulse of the first movement never flagged, with only a few slight adjustments during the opening and closing unison. Her embellishments were tastefully chosen, especially in the enigmatic harmonic changes of the strange slow movement.
One hopes the group records this concerto soon. You can hear for yourself on the ensemble's first volume of Bach concerti.
The second half, devoted to C. P. E. Bach, was no less pleasing. In the Sinfonia V in B minor, Wq 182/5, the two violins played off one another imitatively in the first movement, sometimes with the viola in a small group. Most beautifully, the Presto third movement wove together contrapuntally complex textures over an excited running bass part. Shaggy-haired cellist Petr Skalka had his turn as soloist in the A major cello concerto, Wq 172, which showcased his formidable technique in the outer movements and his melancholy A string playing in the stunning Largo at the center. An extended cadenza displayed the vocal, expressive power of the instrument, which was reprised in the welcome encore from Skalka, the sarabande from the D minor cello suite by J. S. Bach.
Joe Banno, Café Zimmermann (Washington Post, November 5)
This was the Bachs as one would always like to hear them played, and one hopes that local early music players were there taking notes. Unfortunately, this concert was part of a very limited set of appearances in the United States this fall, with only one other stop to play the same program, at St. John's College in Annapolis on November 2. Even more disappointing, the group's next concert tour, with Gustav Leonhardt directing, will present a program taken from their upcoming release of secular cantatas by J. S. Bach, but only at a handful of concerts around France.
The next free concert in the Library of Congress series is the MacDowell Colony Centennial Concert this Friday (November 9, 8 pm).