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.
At the end of the Thirty Years War, the support of the Viennese Imperial Court allowed the emergence of an extraordinarily talented generation of musicians speaking with virtuosity, humour and depth. Schmelzer, Biber and Kerll were at the forefront. For Carnival festivities where music has pride of place they regale us with earthy works that mimic the sounds of nature and everyday life. They also had to meet the taste of Emperor Leopold I, who particularly appreciated imitative counterpoint, and for whom they composed these sonatas which have the power to elevate the soul and spirit.
This is a gem of a CD. It's a well-chosen, well-performed and well-presented anthology of mid-Baroque German sacred cantatas. Bass Peter Kooij and the seven-person L'Armonia Sonora are directed by gambist Mieneke Van der Velden. They have a close and warm affinity not only with one another, but also for the music; it's music as varied as it's beautiful. Its rich, sustained sonorities will stay with you long after you have finished the uplifting experience of listening to the CD. Released on the enterprising Ramée label De profundis clamavi comprises seven sumptuous examples of the music written in the north German Länder in the period after the Thirty Years War. It's music which not so much 'reflects' that profound conflict, as is 'affected' by it – weighed down with detached regret and unselfconscious resignation.
The violinist, Helene Schmitt, manifests herself completely in this new recording for the German label AEOLUS. A genuine accomplishment for the musician. The Rosary Sonatas not only deal with mysteries, they are a mystery themselves. With this violin cycle made up of fifteen sonatas and a solo passacaglia, Biber created one of the most astonishing works of the entire violin repertoire. Famous and even today not completely decrypted in terms of its significance is the assignment of the sonatas to the sacred Christian mysteries.
The Missa Salisburgensis for 53 parts in eight separate choirs, often called "the Mahler 8th of the baroque," is by far the most grandiose work composed before the 18th century. Written (by an unnamed composer generally presumed to be Biber) for the 1,100th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Salzburg, it has extravagant scoring reflecting that city's enormous self-regard. This Mass is rarely performed or recorded, and probably not just because of logistical and financial constraints–the work can often seem tedious and overblown. The large number of parts and the reverberant acoustic of Salzburg Cathedral allowed for very little harmonic variety (virtually the entire Mass is in C major) or virtuoso fireworks; the music can make its effects only through variety of instrumental color and sheer massive sound. It is very much to the credit of Paul McCreesh, Reinhard Goebel, and their musicians that the Missa Salisburgensis sounds so engaging here: the grandeur is leavened with plenty of rhythmic snap, and some lighter moments sound tender and almost delicate. Unusually for McCreesh, there are no chants, prayers, or other trappings of a liturgical reconstruction; there are, however, three sumptuous instrumental sonatas and a motet included with the Mass. This may not be the most profound music of the 17th century, but it is surely among the most jubilant.
The Battalia à 10 is played with great style and charm here. I like the use of two theorbos and a harpsichord and organ on the continuo lines. I have several recordings of this work. Savall's approach is a little more polite than Goebel's and a little more atmospheric than Philip Pickett's quite raw sound. I like all of them. Savall's is, perhaps, the most beautiful recording, even though it doesn't take advantage of the musical effects Biber suggests with as much relish as Goebel or Pickett…
The 'Missa Salisburgensis à 53 voci' (in comparison, 'Spem in alium' was written by Thomas Tallis for «only» 40 voices) is perhaps the largest-scale piece of extant sacred Baroque music, an archetypical work of the Colossal Baroque. It is a polychoral composition which takes advantage of the multiple organs and various locations available for groups of singers and musicians to perform in Salzburg Cathedral, probably for the 1682 celebrations marking the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the Archbishopric of Salzburg. This stunning recording features Jordi Savall’s ensembles at their best and fully reveals the «splendour» of this masterpiece. A recording of cosmic proportions that Jordi Savall has decided to illustrate with a celestial image of the Helix Nebula. Nothing less.