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Baroque Violin Sonatas
Philipp Friederich BÍDDECKER (1607-1683)
Sonata in D minor [6:59]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER (1644-1704)
Sonata II in D minor, C 139 [8:04]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1620/23-1680)
Sonata Tertia in G minor [7:08]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER
Sonata VI in C minor, C 143 [11:42]
Johann Erasmus KINDERMANN (1616-1655)
Sonata for Violin and Basso Continuo in A minor [3:40]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER
Sonata V in E minor, C 142 [10:15]
Johann Erasmus KINDERMANN
Sonata for Violin and Basso Continuo in D minor [3:57]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER
Sonata IV in D minor [9:28]
Elfa R˙n Kristinsdˇttir (baroque violin)
Sabine Erdmann (organ)
Magnus Andersson (theorbo)
rec. 2019, Kirche Zum Heiligen Kreuz, Berlin

As is usually the case with releases from the Solaire label, you get a CD in a nice slipcase box that houses the jewel case and a glossy, chubby booklet full of juicy reading material and nice photos. In this case there is much anecdote and background to the genesis of this recording, including the fine chest organ used which is a new instrument by Karl Friederich Wienecke, the understated looks of which are reflected in a fine, mellow continuo sound that blends and supports the violin perfectly. There are notes on Icelandic violinist Elfa R˙n Kristinsdˇttir’s career and on the recording sessions, the interaction of the musicians, recording techniques and philosophy and many other things, both in English and German.

You have to delve deep to find out something about the actual music and its composers. Biber is well-known of course, and it is his sonatas around which this programme has been built. Johann Erasmus Kindermann’s music was found in the old music archive in Uppsala, Sweden, while Philipp Friederich B÷ddecker’s Sonata is “a lost gem of the baroque repertoire”. These are all performed from original manuscripts, and the challenge of sorting out mistakes and other necessary detective work was another significant aspect of the whole project. There is a useful timeline for each composer at the beginning of the booklet which puts them in context and includes career highlights, showing these sonatas to have come from the mid or third quarter of the 17th century.

If you know Biber’s “Rosary Sonatas” then you will know a little of what to expect on this recording. Those are of course more descriptive in their following of Biblical narrative, but their sound and character with its variations and improvisatory passagework can be considered comparable. The pieces chosen here are more obscure, but as it says on Solaire’s website, “it almost goes without saying that standard repertoire was off the table from the beginning. But so was recording obscure pieces for obscurity’s sake.” These are works chosen for their sheer quality, and you can bathe in fine music from the baroque era in a ‘music for music’s sake’ state of mind.

Kindermann’s sonatas are both single movement pieces, with Schmelzer’s Sonata Tertia joining them in variations on a ground that offers plenty of virtuoso display from the soloist, both in increasing quantities of notes and in moments of affecting tenderness. Kindermann’s Sonata in A minor is played without organ, the violin and theorbo combination offering an almost ethereal contrast to the more grounded sound of the chest organ, the Sonata in D minor in turn played without theorbo. As you might expect, the Biber sonatas are lovely, with dramatic flavours and with some typical ‘scordatura’ movements in the Sonata VI in C minor, the differently-tuned strings adding extra subtle, slightly darker colours. Effects such as unisono double-stopping and some close dissonances crop up in Sonata V in E minor, the Aria of which is both delicious and theatrical.

The programme opens with B÷ddecker’s Sonata in D minor, which is indeed a gem on a par with Biber’s work. Its almost seven-minute span is divided into seven sections, warming us up for what is to come but filled with delights in its own right, with animated Allegro sections against rhetorically rich Adagios. The concluding work is the substantial Sonata IV in D minor by Schmelzer, which must be a misprint as it unsettlingly opens with a major-key stately triple-time Passacaille, a tonality in which the entire work resolutely remains. There are some fabulous rising chromatic dissonances in the violin in the following Sarabande, and the final rousing Allegro is preceded by an Adagio that is disarming in its simplicity.

The Biber sonatas can be found elsewhere, for instance with Igor Ruhadze on the Brilliant Classics label (review). Recorded in a drier acoustic and with harpsichord rather than theorbo to go with the chest organ these are good performances if you want the entire set, but for these individual sonatas I tend to prefer the thrum of Magnus Andersson’s theorbo, the strings of which have much more sustaining power than the rather brittle harpsichord. Performed with impeccable musicality and palpable commitment, this is a disc to treasure. Recording engineer Dirk Fischer is a veteran of numerous acclaimed recordings on other major labels, and he knows how to get the best out of these instruments and the space in which they find themselves. If you are a fan of Biber and music of this period you owe it to yourself to acquire this excellent recording.

Dominy Clements