Heinrich BIBER (1644-1704)
Vesperae longiores ac breviores
Dixit Dominus [5:54]
Confitebor tibi Domine [6:11]
Sonata VIII, from Sonatae tam auris, quam aulis servientes [3:59]
Beatus vir [4:17]
Laudate, pueri, Dominum [3:04]
Laudate Dominum [2:04]
Sonata: Annuntiatio Mariae, from Mystery Sonatas [6:21]
Magnificat [5:43]
Emperor LEOPOLD I (1640-1705)
Ave maris Stella [7:09]
Giovanni LEGRENZI (ca 1620-1690)
Salve Regina [5:58]
Rupert Ignaz MAYR (1646-1712)
Domine ad adiuvandum me festina [1:12]
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei [7:39]
Yale Schola Cantorum; Yale Collegium Players; Simon Carrington
rec. 5,6 December 2004 St Mary's Church New Haven, Connecticut
rec. 7 December 2004 St Michael's Church New York, New York
CARUS 83348 [59:30]

The title - or rather the presence on the front cover solely of Biber's name - of this excellent CD from the enterprising Carus label is a little misleading. The lion's share of the music on what's rather a short offering at under an hour is indeed by Heinrich Biber whose fresh, innovative and distinctive-sounding music has been experiencing something of a reappraisal and well-deserved growth in popularity in recent years.

But there's also very inspiring and appealing music by the Habsburg emperor Leopold 1 (his Ave maris Stella [tr.9] is a sublime piece of great grace and melodic beauty), by Rupert Mayr (whose Sancta Maria, Mater Dei [tr.10] is lucid, simple and focused without being intense) and by Giovanni Legrenzi, who is best-known as a composer of instrumental music (his Salve Regina [tr.12] is a fitting end to the Vespers). Theirs are contributions to the music very much in the same idiom as that of Biber.

The rationale for including their music is, sadly, not (just) that the service of Vespers is composed anyway of a multiplicity of psalms, hymns and antiphons and the central Magnificat. Rather, that Biber's Vesperae longiores ac breviores is incomplete. Items from these other composers have been interleaved. Indeed the famous opening call to worship, Domine ad adiuvandum me festina [tr.1], is actually from Mayr's own Vesper settings. To that degree, this collection is not even a reconstruction. But Biber's style, his vibrancy, harmonic uplift and sleek fit of text to music justly permeates - as if the whole thing were his inspiration.

Biber was one of the most important composers in the German-speaking world at the end of the seventeenth century. Associated with Salzburg, he 'escaped' there from a previous employer in Bohemia and - rising quickly through court ranks - established a highly creditable musical world, the most celebrated icons of which are the two masses (Salisburgensis and Buxellensis) which employ very large forces. The majority of Biber's liturgical work is significantly more intimate … the settings for Vespers on this CD are for four voices (solo, tutti), four strings and continuo.

And yet it's a remarkably rich sound that Carrington gets from his singers and instrumentalists. Their performances are confident, suave, full of elegance and yet vigorous in all the right ways. The Yale Schola Cantorum is a 24-strong chamber group whose star is still on the rise. There is a steadiness to their articulation, and sense of ownership of the music performed here which truly delight.

These are the North American première recordings - indeed, there appears to be no other current recording of the collection. It took place in a pleasantly reverberant and roomy church setting in upstate New York. The liner-notes are minimal and contain the texts in Latin and German as well as English. All in all, a useful addition to Biber's growing discography - with the welcome supplement from contemporaries

Mark Sealey

An excellent Biber collection supplemented by contemporaries … as well performed as it was well-conceived.