surely a matter of some rejoicing that Biber’s Rosary or ‘Mystery’ Sonatas
have been so often recorded. What was once a niche market
is now very much a pluralist affair though one, it’s true,
dominated by practitioners of the art of period performance.
Wallfisch is one of the leaders in that particular field
but her recording of the cycle now enters a considerably
more crowded field than would have been the case only five
years ago. Stand back for a very partial discography:
Manze, Richard Egarr and Alison McGillivray on Harmonia
• Pavlo Beznosiuk, Paula
Chateauneuf, David Roblou and Richard Tunnicliffe on Avie
• the splendid John Holloway with Davitt Moroney,
Stephen Stubbs and Erin Headley on Virgin Veritas VBD5620622
classic Reinhard Goebel and Cologne Musica Antiqua still
around on Archiv
• Walter Reiter and Cordaria
• Monica Huggett and Sonnerie on Gaudeamus CD
And I’ve no
time at all to mention that fine player Edward Melkus,
or the modern set but old time instincts of Suzanne
Lautenbacher, hero of many an obscurity on disc, nor the
contemporary Czech player on a modern set up and with only
organist Jaroslav Tuma to accompany her, Gabriela Demeterová (Supraphon).
There are a number of others.
going to leave the Goebel to one side; it’s stood the test
of time and is a vaunted set. Wallfisch is more immediately
to be aligned with such as Manze, Beznosiuk and Huggett.
Let me say first of all that I enjoyed this set to a degree
but had reservations. The organ that accompanies The Annunciation
is very insistent and undeviating – the starkly unrelieved
chord frankly had me tearing my hair out. Egarr changes
registration subtly in his recording with Manze, as indeed
do most performers in some way – Beznosiuk’s organist doesn’t
but the theorbo changes harmony to relieve the ear. Wallfisch’s
intonation can be quite raw sometimes – as it is in the
Third sonata, where she is quite directional and uninclined
to mine the expressive depth that Manze does nor indulge
in his rubati either. The fact that she is has been accorded
a very immediate recording means that the more resinous
qualities of her playing are evident, as is her rhythmic
insistence in her fast traversal of No.4. This can sound
brusque on occasion – I’m thinking of her Agony in the
Garden, which is rapid in the extreme and lacks interior
projection. At her best she infuses the music with a not
unwelcome folkloric quality, etching for example with graphic
control the Resurrection [No.11]. Hers is by some way the
most publicly projected of the Passacaglias – Monica Huggett
is slower even than Beznosiuk, let alone Manze whereas
Wallfisch zips through in 8:54.
discs sometimes have some kind of appendix or added feature.
Manze’s has a spoken explanation of Scordatura
whilst Beznosiuk’s sports readings by Timothy West. Most
don’t – and this one doesn’t. For an original instrument
traversal amongst more modern players my preference is
for Huggett; Goebel amongst the slightly older battalion.