Deutsche Harmonia Mundi invites you to listen to the next album by Lautten Compagney. This time, the artists' attention was directed towards the works of Heinrich Franz Biber and Astor Piazzolla. This clash of two musical worlds: Biber's rosary sonata - composed for rosary services that took place in October, were interwoven with the perfect masterpieces of the "nuevo tango" master. All works are performed on historical instruments, the sound of which allows the rediscovery of the musical world of Piazzolla.
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.
Biber's grand Requiem in A Major was probably written for the funeral of his employer, Archbishop Maximilian of Salzburg. It is a celebratory piece, with trumpets (and timpani added by Savall) and rich orchestration, quite suitable for a heavenbound soul. The quieter moments ("Sanctus") are just as effective as the big ones ("Dies irae"). The CD's opener, a 13-minute "Battalia" for instruments only, is amazingly colorful and contains some weird, entertaining dissonances. The performances by La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations are ideal. Biber seems to be coming into his own lately, and the recent CDs devoted to his work are very exciting. He was apparently a virtuoso who enjoyed making big statements; they deserve to be heard. Lovers of "high Baroque" music will be moved and delighted.–Robert Levine