Choosing Desert Island Discs - even multiple disc sets - is a dicey business. No matter how alluring a choice might be at a given moment, familiarity and exposure and time spent listening may drop the rank a few notches, at least temporarily. A very, very, very few discs or sets stand out, nonetheless, and seem to be desert island listening from the first compelling notes.
For me, this completely marvelous Cafe Zimmermann set of JS Bach instrumental music challenges the test, and passes with gold medals all around.
CZ is a small ensemble, but never sounds slack, thin, ho-hum, or dutiful. If you want to hear your JSB played by musicians who really sound like they are having a whale of a good time, CZ likely is at least one among your probable choices. I have many other fav shelf items wherein I cherished this or that, ... say, the Brandeburg Concertos, the Four Instrumental Suites, the violin concertos, the keyboard concertos. I fell in love with all of them, with each of them.
CZ simply adds to, amplifies, and enhances the JSB fav shelves. There is not a single outing in this plentiful set that cannot joyously stand passing comparison with any other reading on the shelf. No matter who else sits in savory protection already, it is a distinct and varied pleasure to add Cafe Zimmermann to the existing collection.
So what about the playing? Let's start with virtuosity. Consistently the CZ players show a superbly fluent mastery of the technical aspects of playing their instruments. Committed without exception, they sink deeply into rich tonal values, alert and meaningful phrasing, and all the readings are pervaded by the kind of energy and joy that seems to occasion human singing and music making in the first place. From single notes to polyphony to whole paragraphs that end up seamlessly embedded in whole movements, CZ lays out the music finely indeed. As a prior reviewer has noted, the selection on each single disc of this set is varied, so that one never has a chance to tire of some particular genre, even though JSB seems inexhaustible to most of us listeners, most of the time.
I suspect over time this set offers me so much, so continuously, that I may come to feel all of these really excellent readings as a sort of highly indulgent, luxurious, guilty pleasure. Listening to these discs is like opening a six-layered box of Godiva chocolates, and the promises of such stimulating satiation on so many different musical levels may possibly leave me a bit dizzy or manic. Think sugar rush, in the finest way of course. Good news: nothing in these six discs is fattening, except perhaps to tingle the aural and kinesthetic senses, awaken the mind on more than one level, and valorize the genuine yet lush spirituality which helps us return to hearing JS Bach music, again and again and again.
Five stars. For sure, this entire set, every track. Bravo, Cafe Zimmermann. No regrets, none, none at all, not a hint of a whit. CZ, you are a keeper that more than earns your keep. Kudos, and thanks, to all involved in making this set possible.