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The recording includes eight sonatas composed in 1681, two additional violin sonatas, the Passacaglia for solo lute, and the Passagalia for solo violin from the somewhat better known Rosary or Mystery Sonatas. Since Biber performed these violin sonatas himself, it's not surprising that he is often called the greatest violinist of the seventeenth century. The scores are filled with amazing runs, double stops, surprising melodic leaps and various special effects. The moods range from the Bach-like reverence of Sonata VI [listen -- CD 2 track 4, 0:01-1:32] to the decidedly antic and showy Sonata Representativa. In the latter Biber anticipates The Carnival of the Animals as he depicts, among others, birds, a frog, a cat [listen -- CD 1 track 15, 0:00-0:59] and marching musketeers [listen -- CD 1 track 16, 0:00-1:09].

Manze has strong opinions about how this music should be performed and the technique to achieve whatever effect he's after. The violin leaves center stage only during the piece for solo lute, a Passacaglia which uses the main theme excerpted above from Sonata VI, but in a simpler treatment. Nigel North gives an appropriately gentle performance. He uses the lute or deeper sounding theorbo in a continuo role on other tracks. John Toll completes the trio by adding the color of harpsichord and organ.

Theme and variation is the most frequently used form among the works on this release. Given the violin's dominance it is therefore doubly appropriate that the program concludes with the solo violin in variations over a descending four-note figure [listen -- CD 2 track 11, 8:38-10:00].

This is interesting and satisfying music and the performances are outstanding. Highly recommended.

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


Biber Violin Sonatas

HMX 2907344.45 Stereo REISSUE (2 CDs) 65'46"/61'15" - TT 127'01" 1994, 2002 harmonia mundi usa

Romanesca: Andrew Manze, baroque violin; Nigel North, lute and theorbo; John Toll, harpsichord and organ

CD1: Sonata I; Sonata II; Sonata III; Sonata IV; Passacaglia for solo lute; Sonata Representativa; CD2: Sonata V; Sonata VI; Sonata VII; Sonata VIII (violin solo); Sonata 'La Pastorella'; Passagalia for solo violin



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