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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger


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Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER (1644-1704)
Sonata ‘Victori der Christen’ A minor [9’39]
Sonata 1 A major [11’15]
Sonata II D dorian [8’24]
Sonata V E minor [10’48]
Sonata VIII A major [9’23]
Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704)

Sonata Violino Solo D major [12’52]
John Holloway (violin)
Aloysia Assenbaum (organ)
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)
Rec: Monastery of Gerold, Austria, July 2002
ECM NEW SERIES 1837 [62’52]


This is an enchanting recording of violin sonatas of Heinrich Biber (Kapellmeister in Salzburg) and Georg Muffat. In fact I’ve been returning to this disc again and again over the past few weeks. One of many highlights is the Muffat Sonata Violino Solo in D major (1677), which opens and closes with an incredibly simple yet hugely effective theme that is lovingly played. What I like about the violin playing is its depth, rhythmic flexibility (some nice inégalité), pure tone and sophistication. The playing sounds spontaneous, is at times startling, at times melancholy. Underpinning the violin delights are a continuo of both organ and harpsichord which provide sustaining quality and rhythmic impetus respectively. The recording also allows the continuo instruments to be clearly heard rather than being merely ‘an accompaniment.’

Four of Biber’s Violin Sonatas from the collection Sonatae Violino solo of 1681 are also performed, music described by Peter Wollny thus: ‘Never before had there been such a poised synthesis of challenging virtuosity, artistic expression and intricate craftsmanship.’

The sonatas often alternate slow and fast movements like the Italian Sonata da Chiesa. The Sonata in A opens with improvisation-like flourishes in free time over a tonic pedal before moving to more metrical writing. The harmonies underlying this are invariably simple yet highly effective. A more dance-like section in Allegro tempo follows with dotted rhythms before the violin introduces Lombardic rhythms and a variation on the previous repeating harmonies. Another Presto section follows with more elaborate harpsichord figuration. The tonality is A major throughout which gives the multiple sections a cohesive quality. The toccata patterns and freedom of the opening return towards the end.

The disc opens with Andreas Anton Schmelzer’s adaptation of Biber’s Tenth Rosary Sonata from the ‘Mystery Cycle.’ It portrays in music the ‘Victory of the Christians over the Turks’ in Vienna in 1683. The piece comprises an introductory section, aria and four variations and finale. Attached to the different sections are programme notes explaining the action they represent. The rapid changes of affekt keep the listener engaged until the last note has been played.

The booklet contains texts in English and German, and some imaginative photographs.

A superb disc and therefore a must-have.

Graham Mark Scott

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