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Heinrich Ignaz Franz von BIBER (1644-1704)
Baroque Splendor: Missa Salisburgensis
Bartholomäo RIEDL (c.1650-1688) Fanfara [3:30]
Heinrich BIBER Motet: Plaudite Tympana, ą 53 (1682) [6:22]
Battalia, ą 10 (1673) [11:48]
Sonata Sancti Polycarpi, ą 9 (1673) [5:09]
Missa Salisburgensis, ą 53 (1682) [43:36]
Hanna Bayodi-Hirt, Claudia Habermann, Carmit Natan (sopranos)
Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo)
Pascal Bertin, David Sagastume, Gabriel Diaz, Gabriel Jublin (countertenors)
Nicholas Mulroy, Lluis Vilamajó, Victor Sordo, David Hernįndez (tenors)
Marco Scavazza, Josep Ramon (baritones)
Daniele Carnovich, Antonio Abete (basses)
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Le Concert des Nations
Hespčrion XXI/Jordi Savall
rec. Cardona Castle (Catalunya), 14-16 January 2015, except for La Battalia ą 10, 11 February 2002. DSD
Texts and translations included in 162-page booklet
ALIA VOX AVSA9912 SACD [71:40]

Biber has been doing well recently.  I have just finished hearing and enjoying a BIS recording of his Mystery or Rosary Sonatas – review pending – and two other versions of those works have been announced.  At the same time Jordi Savall has treated us to a gloriously extravagant performance of his larger-scale music, including the Missa Salisburgensis (Salzburg Mass).  If you thought that Tallis’s 40-part Spem in alium was a massive achievement, Biber’s Mass and the motet Plaudite tympana, appended to the Mass in the manuscript and also recorded here, outdo it.  (53 or 54 parts each, depending which authority you consult).

We already had two very fine recordings of the Missa, from Paul McCreesh and Reinhard Goebel, a well-deserved 4 star listing in the old Penguin Guide (DG Archiv 4576112, or 50-CD set 4790441) and, at super-budget price, Ton Koopman (Virgin/Erato 2564619536, 2 CDs for around £7.50 – 5-star review of earlier release).  The DG, like the new Alia Vox, also offers the Sonata Sancti Polycarpi and Plaudite tympana, together with two of Biber’s Sonatę tam aris quam aulis servientes.  The Erato offers the Salzburg Mass with his 15-part Requiem and 32-part Vespers. 

An earlier DG Archiv 7-CD set of Biber’s Music Sacred and Profane can be streamed and downloaded from Qobuz for £24.56 – no booklet.  Subscribers to Qobuz can also compare the DG and Alia Vox versions there, with booklet – the new recording is here.  Non-subscribers can sample.

Both the DG and Alia Vox recordings open proceedings with a suitable fanfare of similar proportions.  Savall chooses to follow with the motet Plaudite tympana, with which the DG concludes the CD.  Both choices of placement are appropriate and there is little to choose between the two.

La Battalia is the sort of music at which both Biber and Jordi Savall excel.  It’s a representation of a battle with all its ramifications, from the opening singing of the troops through to the battle and the laments which ensue.  If you know his representation of the peasants going to church ( Die Pauern Kirchfahrt gennant) and the multifarious bird, animal and marching sound-effects of his Sonata representativa, the latter summoned from just a solo violin, you will know what to expect.  Splendidly evocative as the performance here is, as is that of the Sonata Sancti Polycarpi, they do intersperse two secular pieces between the two sacred works.

This performance of Battalia is recycled from Savall’s earlier recording of Biber’s Requiem (AV9825 – review), though its re-use here is justified in terms of its first appearance in (very good) SACD quality.

The two sonatas on the DG recording are, however, perhaps more suitable – their lengthy Latin title indicates that they are as appropriate for church as for salon performance.  In theory I’m not so convinced by the decision to place them between the sections of the Mass, though it works well in practice.

I do prefer the Sonata Sancti Polycarpi where it’s placed on DG, after the Mass.  The DG offers a sprightly performance, Alia Vox a more stately account.  Both come off very well, with the expansive SACD sound particularly appropriate to Savall’s performance.

The opening Kyries of the Mass are meant to be penitential in nature but if you thought that Haydn and Mozart ignored that aspect in their settings, Biber positively rollicks through them, anticipating the festal style of the Gloria.  The new recording is brighter in style than its predecessor: as with the Sonata Sancti Polycarpi there’s little to choose between two very fine performances and the same is true of the other sections of the Mass. 

The older recording has justifiably been universally praised but it has at least met its match now.  If Savall emphasises the glory of the music a little more and mainly chooses slightly slower tempi, he never allows things to drag – it’s not in his nature to do so.  He is supported by a fine team of soloists, though none of them are ‘big’ names.

I enjoyed Savall’s earlier recording of Biber’s Missa Bruxellensis (AV9808 – DL Roundup January 2009) but he has excelled that older, slightly rough and ready recording.  That was made in Salzburg Cathedral, though the music was discovered in Brussels, hence the name.  The Salzburg Mass was recorded in Savall’s native Catalunya, though the acoustic is consonant with the sound of Salzburg Cathedral.

Both recordings of the Missa Salisburgensis were made in suitably reverberant acoustics and both are very good.  It’s a somewhat thankless task trying to preserve clarity of diction in such elaborate settings but the DG does so slightly more effectively than the Alia Vox.  The latter, however, comes into its own in justifying the title of the album – Baroque Splendor – by reproducing the aura of a huge baroque space even more convincingly.  The CD layer sounds very well, even on a small machine, but the SACD stereo layer adds a touch of both splendour and clarity.  For once I regret that I don’t have the equipment to comment on the multi-track layer.  The booklet, consisting of 192 pages, has a de luxe feel, even allowing for the fact that many of the pages advertise other Jordi Savall recordings.  I foresee problems, however, with the way that its last page slots into the cardboard triptych cover.

The DG and Alia Vox sell for around the same price.  Whichever of these very fine recordings you choose, don’t hesitate to obtain one of them: the Missa Salisburgensis is a wonderful work which any lover of the baroque should enjoy.  Having done so, you may well feel ready to move on Biber’s Easter Mass, Missa Christi resurgentis.  (The English Concert/Andrew Manze, Harmonia Mundi Gold HMG507397).

Brian Wilson


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