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GRAMOPHONE (12/2023)
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Reviewer :
 Lindsay Kemp

Frank Peter Zimmermann’s solo Bach was a lockdown project hatched at home, begun with no definite intention of recording but progressing gradually to completion in two separate releases. The first came out last year, and here now is the second, containing the G minor and C major Sonatas (both recorded in 2021) and the B minor Partita (recorded in 2022). Reviewing the first volume (4/22), Mark Seow could not help but admire Zimmermann’s technical mastery, and the same high quality is immediately apparent this time, too; one can hear little strain or effort in such Rolls-Royce playing. Likewise the beauty of sound he draws from his 1711 Strad: soft, warm and at ease in its periodinfluenced straight tone, yet allowing gleams of vibrato to shine from time to time. You could happily sit down with these performances and let them flow over you.


Interviewed in Gramophone last year, however, Zimmermann certainly did not make light of the musical challenges these pieces present, particularly in respect of articulation and voice-leading, and it is here that one does begin to sense the hard yards. His articulation is indeed both detailed and intelligently varied – the Siciliano of the G major Sonata gains from a lilting light touch – and the big fugues in the sonatas are impeccably delineated, the strenuous C major especially. But there are places where things seem over-deliberate: the soprano-bass dialogue of the B minor Courante is heavy-handed, and there is occasionally an over-fussy non legato manner that sometimes simply sounds spiky; in some of the moto perpetuo fast movements and doubles here you almost start to itch.


It’s not that Zimmermann is resistant to Baroque style. He has said he has learnt from listening to many of its top exponents, and comparing the way he plays Bach now to the way he did in his early career shows that he has come a long way. The C major Largo is a sweetly dainty thing. But it is interesting to hear how his added ornamentation develops from an ungainly attack of twiddles in the G minor Fugue to some rather more elegant free Podgerish swirls in the B minor Partita, recorded a year later. As so often with Bach, it seems, there is a way to travel yet. Distinguished though these performances are in many ways, one is left wondering how Zimmermann might be playing them in another 10 years’ time.

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