> BIBER Myster Sonatas, Passacaglia [JW]: Classical Reviews- June 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Heinrich Franz BIBER (1644-1704)
Mystery Sonatas 1-7

Gabriela Demeterova, violin
Jaroslav Tuma, organ
Recorded Mirror Chapel, Klementinum, Prague March 1996
SUPRAPHON SU 3155-2131 [59’33]
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The fifteen Mystery Sonatas, of which Demeterova and Tuma perform the first seven in the first volume of the complete set, date from approximately 1674 and are works of the utmost spirituality. They were written by Biber, himself a virtuoso violinist and a technical innovator, as representative of moments in the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary but they are pictorial and not obviously representational. The Mysteries are presented sequentially – the five Joyful mysteries followed by the five Sorrowful Mysteries and finally the five Glorious Mysteries – and ending, properly speaking, with the great unaccompanied Passacaglia (which however ends this disc).

One of Biber’s innovations was the use of scordatura – a retuning of the violin from the standard fifths – and this is a pervasive feature of the Sonatas in this excellent performance by the young Czech violinist Gabriela Demeterova and organist Jaroslav Tuma. Whilst the structure of the Sonatas is broadly quite loose - the Fourth is a single movement Chaconne, the third in five movements for example – the impulse is always towards an admixture of dance rhythms and spiritual contemplation. Demeterova lightens her tone – she plays a modern violin and is a well-known exponent of the nineteenth century Romantic literature amongst other things – in the opening movement of the Sonata devoted to the Visitation; she has a simplicity and an imaginative lyricism that is well attuned to the interior qualities of Biber’s Sonatas. Tuma is a most understanding partner, not least in the Allemande of the same work, though he tends to maintain a discreet reticence for most of the time (when he does assert himself, as in the scourging fierceness of his interjections in the concluding Sarabande of Sonata VII, Christ’s Flagellation, it rather makes one wish that he had been somewhat more interventionist earlier).

Nevertheless there is an enormous amount to admire here; the strong line of the Praeludium of Sonata V, the independent lines of the immediately following Allemande, devoted to the Dispute with the Doctors (its narrative and pictorial implications quite clear) and the remarkable depth of the Lamento of Sonata VI – Christ’s Suffering on the Mount of Olives. These are some of the most profoundly introspective, technically advanced and spiritually intense moments in the instrumental literature of the baroque and an analogue to Bach’s Passions. Most extraordinary is the almost uplifting Allemande that introduces Christ’s Flagellation, a moment of unremitting dignity and transcendence. To all of these moments the performers are intensely alive. Whilst other recordings employ a larger continuo group than simply the organ, Demeterova’s rapport with Tuma is conclusive and sensitive and quite sufficient to convey the depth and the humanity of these remarkable Sonatas.

Jonathan Woolf

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