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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704)
The Rosary Sonatas

CD 1
Sonata I: The Annunciation [6:16]
Sonata II: The Visitation [4:15]
Sonata III: The Nativity [5:39]
Sonata IV: The Presentation in the Temple [7:02]
Sonata V: The Finding in the Temple [6:45]
Sonata VI: The Agony in the Garden [6:42]
Sonata VII: The Scourging [8:13]
Sonata VIII: The Crowning with Thorns [5:32]
Sonata IX: The Carrying of the Cross [7:02]
Sonata X: The Crucifixion [8:19]
CD 2
Sonata XI: The Resurrection [8:00]
Sonata XII: The Ascension [6:17]
Sonata XIII: The Descent of the Holy Ghost [6:50]
Sonata XIV: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin [9:43]
Sonata XV: The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin [10:17]
Passacaglia [8:54]
Elizabeth Wallfisch (violin)
Rosanne Hunt (cello)
Linda Kent (organ and harpsichord)
rec. Iwaki Auditorium, ABC’s Southbank Centre, Melbourne, September, October and December 2005
ABC CLASSICS 476 6831 [65:46 + 41:25]
Experience Classicsonline

It’s 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.
 
Elizabeth 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:

• Andrew Manze, Richard Egarr and Alison McGillivray on Harmonia Mundi HMU907321/2
• Pavlo Beznosiuk, Paula Chateauneuf, David Roblou and Richard Tunnicliffe on Avie AV0038
• the splendid John Holloway with Davitt Moroney, Stephen Stubbs and Erin Headley on Virgin Veritas VBD5620622
• the classic Reinhard Goebel and Cologne Musica Antiqua still around on Archiv
• Walter Reiter and Cordaria on Signum
• Monica Huggett and Sonnerie on Gaudeamus CD GAU 350/1

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.
 
I’m 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.
 
Other 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.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 



 


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