The seven partitas of Harmonia Artificiosa-Ariosa contain some of Biber’s finest chamber music outside of the Mystery Sonatas. They are consistently inventive and delightful. Especially noteworthy is the extended No. 7 in C minor with its lovely Arietta, actually more of a passacaglia/chaconne. No.3 ends with a chaconne structured as a canon in unison over a popular Italian bass line. This is so similar in concept to Pachelbel’s ubiquitous canon that you can’t help wondering if one of them took a cue from the other. Certainly, if wrested from obscurity, Biber’s might give Pachelbel’s a run for its money.
Here is something unusual among the growing number of recordings of Heinrich von Biber's Rosary Sonatas; in Arts two-disc SACD set featuring violinist Riccardo Minasi and Bizzarrie Armoniche, Biber's set of 15 Sonatas realized with a full, Italian style continuo and Italian violin ornamentation. The accepted standard, for decades, was continuo realization with organ alone, and eventually the notion of a cello or theorbo joining the band gained acceptance.
Just a generation ago, Heinrich von Biber's Rosary (or "Mystery") Sonatas were looked upon as ultra-rare repertoire, the sort of thing a Classical record collector would have to go out of his/her way to obtain on recordings. It appears that by now anyone who plays Baroque violin music to any degree of seriousness has had contact with Biber's sonatas, and there are no less than 20 complete or near complete recordings of Rosary Sonatas available.
For fans of Il Giardino Armonico's flamboyant flourishes and exuberant expressiveness, it's like having all your birthdays at once, being presented with this great Warner Classics 11 CD set. My own feeling is that this "free" approach to Baroque music is at its best when applied to the theatrical music of disc 8 or the seventeenth century Italian music on disc 1. The showmanship and playfulness is an absolute joy in many of those pieces. I'm less satisfied with the interpretations of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, (on discs 10 and 11), which require a different approach, I feel. I like my Bach to be a little more measured and subtle, I suppose. It has no need of the Il Giardino Armonico treatment. On the whole, though, I do love this set and wouldn't be without it.
Don’t be put off by the title: this is wonderful music, and all the words indicate is that the pieces can be used in church or court… what you get in these 12 sonatas is the music of gesture: sweeping roulades, folksy melodies, plangent fanfares. Fiercely incisive playing from Ars Antiqua, the six strings led by Gunar Letzbor, and unforced accuracy from the trumpets.
Violinist Vaughan Jones brings us a fascinating collection of 18th century solo works. Three hundred years after their first publication, Austrian composer Johann Joseph Vilsmayr's Six Partitas for Solo Violin are recorded here in their entirety for the first time. Johann Georg Pisendel was a famous Baroque violinist and composer. His fiendishly difficult Violin Sonata is an unpredictable, tempestuous and capricious work, showing great scope and ambition. To round out the recording, Jones plays the famous Passacaglia by Biber - a somber, moving work and a perfect end to this noteworthy set.
Biber's 'Rosary Sonatas' for violin and basso continuo stand alone in the violin literature and in music history, offering a unique combination of programmatic material and the use of scordatura. The cycle consists of fifteen sonatas for violin and basso continuo, and a closing Passacaglia for solo violin, composed c.1687. Through the copper engravings inserted at the head of each sonata in the manuscript depicting key moments in the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary, the music has become associated with the Catholic Mysteries of the Rosary.