Damien Guillon countertenor, Café Zimmermann
Alpha Classics Alpha 626
Music by J. C. & J. M. Bach, Bernhard, Biber, Froberger & Schmelzer

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Few chamber ensembles play the music of Baroque Germany with more authority than Café Zimmermann, and in their latest release they have unearthed some superb music associated with death and mortality – little can they have realised as they recorded the programme in May 2019 how relevant it would have become by the time of its release. The most remarkable aspect of the project is the discovery of so much unfamiliar music of superlative quality, in some cases by composers who are also virtually unknown. Principal amongst these are the two ‘regional’ Bachs, Johann Michael (1648-1694) organist at Gehren, and Johann Christoph (1642-1703), organist at Eisenach. The former is represented by an eloquent strophic aria and the latter by a powerfully expressive lament, both sung expressively by Damien Guillon, who also graces the setting of Psalm 42 by Schütz pupil Christoph Bernhard, as well as a quite mesmerising setting of O dulcis Jesu, attributed to Heinrich Biber. While, as Peter Wollny’s programme note points out, the writing for the obbligato violin in this striking piece is thoroughly Biberesque in style, the vocal writing bears no resemblance to any of Biber’s surviving oeuvre that I know of, and indeed I would be cautious of the attribution of this anonymous piece. And if we are tempted to think cynically of the relationship between Baroque patrons and composers, Schmelzer’s deeply heartfelt “Lamento sopra la morte Ferdinandi III” provides a useful antidote. This is a CD packed with unanticipated melancholy delights, and Café Zimmermann, with their ideal blend of authority and genuine lively curiosity, are the perfect ensemble in whose company to explore it. Perhaps the bravest decision of many is to conclude the disc with Biber’s extraordinary unaccompanied Passacaglia from the Rosenkranzsonaten for solo violin – it is a testimony to the superb technique and musicality of the group’s first violinist, Pablo Valetti, that we are riveted to the last!

D. James Ross

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