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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Heinrich BIBER (1644-1704)
Sonatas for Strings from "Sonatae tam Aris quam Aulis servientes" (1676)
"Die Pauernkirchfahrt" ("the peasantsí church procession")

Sonata V a sei in E Minor [5:41]
Sonata IX a cinque in B-flat [5:44]
Sonata a sei in B-flat "Die Pauernkirchfahrt" [6:27]
Anonymous keyboard partite in D Minor (from the Göttweig manuscript) [11:04]
Sonata XI a cinque in A [4:08]
Sonata VIII a cinque in G [6:27]
Anonymous keyboard partite in G (from the Göttweig manuscript) [8:51]
Sonata VI a cinque in F [4:56]
Sonata III a sei in G Minor [5:54]
Sonata II a sei in D [4:21]
Ingrid Matthews, David Greenberg, violins
Stephen Cresswell, violin and viola
Mary Manning, Kim Zabelle, violas
Margriet Tindemans, viola da gamba
John Schneiderman, archlute and baroque guitar
Byron Schenkman, harpsichord
Seattle Baroque /Ingrid Matthews (Music Director)
Byron Schenkman (Artistic Director)
Recorded 26-28 March 2001 at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, USA. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2615 [64:55]


This CD is a well-chosen sample of Biberís finest ensemble music. One of the supreme violinists and virtuoso composers of the 17th century, much of Biber's work remains underplayed and relatively obscure. However, as Burnley wrote, over 100 years after many of the pieces on this disc were composed, Ďof all the violin players of the last century Biber seems to have been the best, and his solos are the most difficult and most fanciful of any music I have seen of the same periodí.

Seattle Baroque, a highly regarded ensemble, formed in 1994, present well-paced, elegant readings of these wonderful sonatas. I would not hesitate in recommending this disc to newcomers to Biber, who Iím sure will be swept away by the sheer inventiveness of this music. One only has to listen to Sonata IX (track 2), for example, to be confronted with a seemingly endless number of melodic ideas tumbling over each other. This is music that rewards repeated listening; there are so many unexpected alterations in rhythm and texture throughout these pieces that it takes some effort to warm to them.

Although I am impressed with the recording as a whole, there are a number of shortcomings. The first concerns the recording quality, which I find overly brittle, and at times painfully close. I found myself turning the bass up and the treble down to compensate. The balance favours the violins (perhaps not surprisingly), but to the detriment of the harpsichord, which is needed to bring a required richness to the sound. This is particularly unfortunate, given that Schenkman is a very fine player indeed. The violins themselves generate quite different tones. Matthews plays an original from 1703, while those of Greenberg and Cresswell are modern copies, and there are times when they donít quite gel, particularly in the high registers (most noticeably in Sonata XI).

Perhaps the most engaging composition on the disc is the Sonata a sei in B-flat "Die Pauernkirchfahrt". After a simple adagio, an extended section of call and echo among the strings gradually fades to nothing before a new ascending, then descending, graceful motif is played out. Itís performed in a thoughtful, measured style and works beautifully.

Following this, we have the first of two anonymous keyboard partitas dating from the late 17th century Göttweig manuscript. The harpsichord sounds wonderful here and the piece is superb. A very pretty allemande is followed by a brusque courante, then a series of short airs and variations, followed by a gigue. Schenkman takes a no nonsense approach to the music, with little ornamentation, and the result is very exciting.

The other keyboard partita is equally impressive, and is played with great confidence. Some may wish for a more rhythmically free style of playing (Schenkman here reminds me of Trevor Pinnock in his recent Bach solo recordings), but it is never less than involving. Including these two keyboard works was a masterstroke and complements the ensemble pieces.

Of the other works, Sonata VIII is one of the most enjoyable on the disc. It has an irresistible forward momentum which does not let up. Technically very demanding, it is played at quite a fast tempo with top notch performances all round.

Caveats aside, this is a warmly recommended release and a fine introduction to Biberís writing for ensemble. Packaging is just about adequate, although track descriptions are incomplete.

Peter Bright

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