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A complex personality

The Romanesca trio's recording of Biber Violin Sonatas -
recommended by

'... the performances are outstanding.'

Biber: Violin Sonatas. Romanesca. © 2002 harmonia mundi

This is a reissue of a much-honored two-CD set originally released in 1994. At a two-for-one price it's an even stronger must-have for lovers of outstanding and unusual baroque chamber music.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber stands apart from his contemporaries. His music sounds more modern and experimental than it has any right to for the seventeenth century. 'Wrong' notes, different violin tunings (scordatura) and elements of gypsy music mix with deep understanding of harmony and form and a fine melodic gift. (Don't worry that a few themes are borrowed from others.) The mélange seems to have reflected a complex personality. He wanted to be taken seriously as a composer and attract the patronage of the powerful, but he also delighted in showing-off in front of audiences. Musicologists have long been intrigued by his difficult, inventive and erudite music. It has been of less interest to performers. Why spend endless hours learning wonderfully virtuosic but ancient sonatas with limited popular appeal when you could be taking on Bach, Beethoven or Paganini.

Fortunately for us Andrew Manze seems less interested in the oft performed than in worthwhile but neglected older music. And I can't imagine anyone bringing these works more to life. Though he uses an original instrument, he achieves a sonority more typical of modern violins and the vigorous performances of the Romanesca trio clean away any cobwebs that three-hundred-year old works might be expected to have.

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Copyright © 3 March 2004 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA


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