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Heinrich Ignaz von BIBER (1644-1704)
The Rosary Sonatas (Die Rosenkranz-Sonaten) Volume 1: Sonatas 1-9
Monica Huggett (violin)
Emilia Benjamin (viola da gamba/lirone)
Elizabeth Kenny (archlute/theorbo/baroque guitar)
Francis Kelly (harp)
Matthew Halls (organ/harpsichord)
Rec St Silas’s Kentish Town, London, May, December 2003, January 2004
GAUDEAMUS CD GAU 350 [60.27]

This is my third review of the Rosary Sonatas in the last couple of years and falls soon after the latest entrant, Pavlo Beznosiuk.



Rather than draw any grandiose conclusions about works that, more than most, fared poorly in the 78 and LP eras and are now flourishing on CD, it’s surely better to welcome the diversity and catholicity of approaches available to players when it comes to these powerfully expressive works. Whether this is in the modern set up violin, with just organ to accompany, of Gabriela Demeterova or Beznosiuk’s original instrument continuo group these are works that resonate in imaginative hands.

Monica Huggett plays the first nine sonatas in the first volume of her edition, whereas Beznosiuk’s was a 2 CD set with readings by Timothy West interspersed between the sonatas. Demeterova played the first seven and the great Passacaglia on her Supraphon disc noted above but demarcation lines doubtless exist in this work. Generalists will take an overview but specialists will look to such as Holloway and Moroney or Beznosiuk or Reiter with Concordia. Huggett is not quite as susceptible as Beznosiuk to intense rapture, which led him, on occasion, to a daring communion that stretched the line (as in the Passacaglia). She finds warmth and a joyful dancing momentum in the early sonatas, The Joyful Mysteries; the Allaman of the second, Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth, is especially affectionate and the accompaniment is tactful and apposite. I liked her delineation of the drama of the third, The Birth of Christ, with intimacies and the optimism of the middle movements balanced by the drama of the concluding Adagio. Similarly the Ciacona representing (should we take these Sonatas literally, which isn’t always wise or helpful) The Presentation in the Temple augurs well for Huggett’s Passacaglia. She takes it with linearity and a sure sense of direction.

When the Sonatas deepen, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, we find her Sixth Sonata’s Adagio very precisely articulated and the Sarabande of The Scourging particularly interior. I was keen to hear the Ninth, The Carrying of the Cross, where Biber’s unacademic inclusiveness admits of folk-like elements. Here Sonnerie conspire to give us a cimbalom-like sonority that speaks of universal, not academic, acceptance.

The sound is warm with not too much echo. The only blot is that Gaudeamus hasn’t separately tracked each individual movement – if you want to find, say, the Double Presto in The Crowning with Thorns you’d better have your fast forward finger ready.

Jonathan Woolf


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