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Heinrich Ignaz von BIBER (1644-1704)
The Mystery Sonatas (Die Rosenkranz-Sonaten) Volume 2: Sonatas 10-16

Monica Huggett (violin)
Emilia Benjamin (viola da gamba/lirone)
Elizabeth Kenny (archlute/theorbo/baroque guitar)
Francis Kelly (harp)
Matthew Halls (organ/harpsichord)
Recorded St Silas’s Kentish Town, London, May, December 2003, January 2004
GAUDEAMUS CD GAU 351 [57.18]

Time for some more superlatives. In fact time to dust down the critical thesaurus for Monica Huggett and her confreres in Sonnerie for their second volume of the Rosary Sonatas. See my review of Volume 1 for specifics because I haven’t much usefully to add.

As before she is consistently quicker than a recent rival such as Beznosiuk and this is not just a matter of his more resonant acoustic. Their approaches to drama and line do differ. Her attacca/lyric distinctions in The Crucifixion (No.11) are impressive – there is real colour in the variations and a sense of drive. The organ (Matthew Halls) is deployed with sensitivity in the Resurrection. The cumulative lyricism of the Surrexit Christus Hodie is wonderful with the viola da gamba adding texture; the concluding Adagio is limpid and affecting. The cimbalom-like effect of the harpsichord gives colour, texture and a sense of strangeness tinged with folk sonority to The Ascension. In a movement such as this Pavlo Beznosiuk is a full two minutes slower as he strives to give expressive meaning and depth to such moments.

The fine, stinging attacks of The Assumption (No.14) are augmented by the colour of harp and guitar and there is great gravity and elegance with just violin and organ essaying The Coronation of the Virgin. The great and concluding Passacaglia is quite slow – on a par with Beznosiuk – and like his performance subject to some metrical elasticity. I tend to prefer a more direct and linear reading but this one is assuredly sensitive.

The sound quality in St Silas’s Kentish Town is warm and not too ambient. As before the movements are not, regrettably, separately banded. And since when do we spell it Resurrextion or Crucifixtion, come to that? There’s no need for affectation of that kind when the playing is so fine.

Jonathan Woolf

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