Bach/Ba Zimmermann

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach/Ba Zimmermann
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Suite No. 2 in D minor for Solo Cello; Sonatas for Solo Violin, Solo Viola and Solo Cello
PERFORMER: Thomas Demenga (cello), Thomas Zehetmair (violin), Christoph Schiller (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: 449 904-2
This refreshing disc of ancient and modern is a model of creative programming: Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s music dares to leap forward from Bach’s great solo tradition, but also pays it cryptic homage. The unifying element, according to Demenga’s thoughtful note, is that brand of ‘melancholy cheerfulness’ spun by the musing D minor Suite and permeating all three of Zimmermann’s intense miniatures.

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In terms of sound, this is Bach playing au naturel: the recording doesn’t spare us any surface noise, and magnifies the contact – or lack of it – of the bow on the string. Yet Demenga’s virtuosic superiority is never in question, as an exacting and resonant Courante taken at speed proves. His playing is informed by Baroque practice, with discreet decoration and soft, dark pedal notes.

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Zehetmair gives a strong reading of the sultry Violin Sonata, which glories in the instrument as gypsy virtuoso and formal orator alike. Zimmermann’s fluency in the Toccata is astonishing and, set against Hindemith’s solo works written a decade earlier, wins hands down. Where Hindemith is four-square, Zimmermann is purposefully rhapsodic, with an almost improvisatory intensity. The Viola Sonata, based on the chorale ‘Gelobet seist Du, Jesu Christ’, progresses wonderfully from complexity towards the culminating chorale, while the Cello Sonata is a vivid gallery of time-layered, sonic collages. Helen Wallace