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Animam gementem cano
Heinrich BIBER (1644-1704)
Requiem in F minor [25:47]
Sonata VIII à 5 in G major [4:51]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1620-1680)
Sonata IX in G major [4:42]
Andreas Christophorus CLAMER (1633-1701)
Partita I in E minor [10:31]
František TŮMA (1704-1774)
Stabat Mater in G minor [15:41]
Pluto Ensemble/Marnix de Cat; Hathor Consort/Romina Lischka
rec. 24-26 November 2019, Notre Dame de la Nativité, Gedinne, Belgium
RAMÉE RAM1914 [61:34]

Audiences for late 17th century music, as well as violinists, will be very familiar with the name of Heinrich Biber. His 15 “Rosary” or “Mystery” Sonatas for unaccompanied violin are famous – maybe notorious - for their stretching of violin technique and calling for all manner of unconventional practices in order to convey Biber’s very obvious passion for the religious texts which inspired them. His other music has been largely overshadowed by the Sonatas, yet, as we hear in this setting of the Requiem, his profound involvement in and response to a sacred text is even more astute when he has a larger body of performers at his disposal, even if his compositional technique is less innovative. Within the conventions of the age, he conveys a consciousness of the spirit of the text which seems, to us, way ahead of its time.

In his detailed booklet notes, Jan Devlieger describes Biber’s Requiem as “a true masterpiece”, and this observation is, if anything, an understatement. It is a profound and inspiring work which, in its beauty and religious intensity, stands out from most of the sacred music of the time, and even today has the power to move us; especially given this outstanding performance from Belgian-based Pluto-Ensemble. There is no room in the booklet for anything other than Devlieger’s fulsome notes on the music, but the sung texts can be accessed on the ensemble’s own website where we also learn that Marnix de Cat founded this vocal group to perform “music based on Truth of the human being, with a message of beauty and joy” in these times of great world disturbance. I’m not a great fan of such hyperbolic stuff, but there is no denying that this performance has rare power to move.

Equally moving and impressive in its intensity and beauty is the setting of the ancient Stabat Mater by the Bohemian František Tůma, a rather more conventional composer than Biber and one who is probably best known to organists through an arrangement by the late CH Trevor of various instrumental pieces to form a simple three-movement Suite. He was, however, best known in his day as a gamba and theorbo player and spent most of his life in around Vienna. His output included some five settings of the Stabat Mater, that one recorded here first performed in March 1748 but subsequently lost until Marnix de Cat unearthed the manuscript. This, then, is the work’s first recording, and a very impressive one it is with the 10 voices of the Pluto Ensemble providing a clear and focused delivery of the text. They are supported by the respected Belgian period instrumental group, the Hathor Consort, founded by Romina Lischka in 2012.

Three purely instrumental items are sandwiched between the two vocal pillars, and while the Sonatas by Biber and Schmelzer are typical of their time, for me the great discovery is the four-movement Partita by the Salzburg-based Andreas Christophorus Clamer. Here is music of great charm and distinction, with plenty of character and individuality. As with the other works, the Hathor Consort offer up a beautifully life-affirming and committed performance.
Marc Rochester

Previous review: Johan van Veen

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