Biber: The Rosary Sonatas

Biber: The Rosary Sonatas

by Andrew Manze
     
 
Andrew Manze continues to stake his claim as the leading Baroque violinist of our time with this insightful and skilled performance of Biber's complete "Rosary" (or "Mystery") Sonatas, one of the seminal collections of Baroque violin music. Corresponding to the practice of Rosary devotion, each of Biber's 15 sonatas describes an important

Overview

Andrew Manze continues to stake his claim as the leading Baroque violinist of our time with this insightful and skilled performance of Biber's complete "Rosary" (or "Mystery") Sonatas, one of the seminal collections of Baroque violin music. Corresponding to the practice of Rosary devotion, each of Biber's 15 sonatas describes an important moment in the Christian story (the Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and so forth), and in keeping with this intimate and prayerful context, Manze's performance is in general marked by moderation and an avoidance of ostentation. Unlike John Holloway's fine Virgin Classics recording (currently unavailable), which draws together a large group of continuo instruments, here only a single keyboard -- alternately organ and harpsichord, played by Richard Egarr -- accompanies the solo violin. Only in the "Ascension" Sonata is a violone added, following an indication in the lone surviving copy of Biber's original score. Almost paradoxically, the comparative austerity intensifies the beauty of the music and draws in the listener to Biber's often strikingly imaginative writing. Manze also doesn't dwell on the often-cited programmatic elements in the sonatas. He asks: "Can you really hear the flutter of the Archangel's wings during the 'Annunciation'?" Perhaps this is indeed only a flight of fancy, but one thing is certain: Manze's playing of the drawn-out "amen" cadence at that Sonata's end is breathtaking in its delicacy. Other moments pack plenty of dramatic punch, such as the gripping final Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin, an important forerunner of Bach's D Minor Chaconne. Yet the cumulative effect is one of sober intensity that cuts straight to the heart of these masterful sonatas. A final track offers Manze's informative and amusing explanation of the scordatura (atypical tuning) that runs throughout Biber's greatest opus.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - James Manheim
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber's "Rosary Sonatas" were written in Salzburg in the 1670s or 1680s, and they're really unlike anything else in the violin literature. Scordatura, or unconventional tuning of an instrument's strings, was common enough during the Baroque era, but Biber's cycle of 15 pieces for violin and continuo explores the technique exhaustively: each of the 15 sonatas uses a different tuning. The result is music of fearsome difficulty for the player, and, as with Bach's best music, technical complexity generates spiritual intensity. Each sonata represents one of the Mysteries of the Catholic Rosary, which are divided into five Joyful Mysteries (the Annunciation, for example), five Sorrowful Mysteries (concluding with Christ's crucifixion), and five Glorious Mysteries (centered on the Resurrection and on Mary's Assumption). Some of the sonatas have three movements, often with two slow, quasi-improvisatory movements surrounding a central "Aria" or piece in dance rhythm. Others are series of dances, and a few are long single movements approaching the elaborate architecture of the Chaconne from Bach's "Partita No. 2 for solo violin." Some of the tunings are downright outlandish; as the music reaches its spiritual climax in the "Resurrection" sonata, Biber specifies that the violin be played with its two central strings crossed, perhaps to symbolize the meeting of heaven and earth. A helpful short commentary by Andrew Manze included at the end of disc two explains the scordatura technique for those who would rather listen than read. Manze, a British Baroque violinist who has led the English Concert and the Academy of Ancient Music, brings these pieces alive. Performing on a 1700 violin with sheep gut strings, he retunes the instrument for each sonata rather than playing on a set of pre-tuned instruments. This allows the listener to hear the radical changes in tone the violin undergoes as the levels of pressure on its strings are altered. Manze puts it this way in his notes: "As it is pulled into different tunings, the violin undergoes experiences, some pleasant (as in the Visitation and Coronation), some traumatic (the Agony and Crowning with Thorns, for example)." The sequence of tunings matches the events of Christ's life, with the Sorrowful Mysteries rendered in harsh, tense tones. This hasn't always been clear in earlier performances of the work, and observers have tried with dubious success to find more overt pictorialism. Biber shifts mood rather than painting pictures, and the scordatura technique plays a primary role. There are a few problems with this recording. The break between the two discs is unfortunate; the "Crucifixion and Death of Jesus" sonata is orphaned at the beginning of disc two, and the listener, changing CDs, will miss the highly dramatic transition from the carrying of the cross to the crucifixion. And the continuo accompaniment by Richard Egarr can be questioned. He shifts between organ and harpsichord, bringing out the more improvisatory flights of the violin nicely but creating some contrasts that Baroque audiences might or might not have found idiomatic. Neither of these complaints, however, detracts from Manze's impressive achievement here.
New York Times - Jeremy Eichler
Andrew Manze offers stylish and unfussy readings that mix reverence and whimsy in equal parts.
The New Yorker - Russell Platt
Andrew Manze's performance...combines a courtly sense of pacing with crisp bow strokes.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/12/2004
Label:
Harmonia Mundi Fr.
UPC:
0093046732127
catalogNumber:
907321

Related Subjects

Tracks

Disc 1

  1. Mystery Sonatas (16), for violin & basso continuo (or solo violin), C. 90-105

    • Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber
    • Richard Egarr
    • Alison McGillivray
    • George Herbert
    • Salvador Dali
    1. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 1. The Annunciation: Præludium  (02:17)
    2. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 10. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus: Præludium  (01:22)
    3. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 1. The Annunciation: Aria  (02:24)
    4. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 10. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus:  (03:56)
    5. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 1. The Annunciation: [Finale]  (01:20)
    6. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 10. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus: Variatio, cont.  (04:23)
    7. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 2. The Visitation: Sonata  (02:07)
    8. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 11. The Resurrection: Sonata  (02:26)
    9. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 2. The Visitation: Allamanda  (03:42)
    10. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 11. The Resurrection: Surexit Christus hodie  (03:50)
    11. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 2. The Visitation: [Finale]  (01:00)
    12. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 11. The Resurrection: Adagio  (01:12)
    13. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 3. The Nativity: Sonata  (01:41)
    14. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 12. The Ascension: Intrada  (00:51)
    15. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 3. The Nativity: Courente, Double  (03:25)
    16. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 12. The Ascension: Aria Tubicinum  (01:24)
    17. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 3. The Nativity: [Finale]  (02:17)
    18. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 12. The Ascension: Allamanda  (03:17)
    19. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple: Ciacona  (09:01)
    20. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 12. The Ascension: Courente, Double  (03:06)
    21. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: Præludium  (01:09)
    22. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 13. The Descent of the Holy Spirit: Sonata  (03:19)
    23. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: Allamanda  (01:22)
    24. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 13. The Descent of the Holy Spirit: Gavotta  (01:33)
    25. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: Guigue  (01:15)
    26. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 13. The Descent of the Holy Spirit:  (01:49)
    27. The Five Joyful Mysteries. Sonata 5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: Sarabanda, Double  (03:37)
    28. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 13. The Descent of the Holy Spirit: Sarabanda  (01:33)
    29. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 6. The Agony in the Garden: Lamento  (09:21)
    30. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 14. The Assumption of Mary into Heaven: [Sonata]  (02:27)
    31. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 7. The Scourging at the Pillar: Allamanda, Variatio  (05:14)
    32. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 14. The Assumption of Mary into Heaven: Aria  (07:09)
    33. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 7. The Scourging at the Pillar: Sarabanda, Variatio  (05:36)
    34. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 15. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth: Sonata  (01:54)
    35. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 8. The Crowning with Thorns: Sonata  (02:28)
    36. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 15. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth: Aria,  (05:53)
    37. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 8. The Crowning with Thorns: Guigue, Double 1, Double 2  (03:44)
    38. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 15. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth: Canzon  (01:55)
    39. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 9. The Carrying of the Cross: Sonata  (02:32)
    40. The Five Glorious Mysteries. Sonata 15. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth: Saraba  (02:25)
    41. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 9. The Carrying of the Cross: Courente, Double  (04:51)
    42. Passagaalia for unaccompanied violin  (09:20)
    43. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries. Sonata 9. The Carrying of the Cross: Finale  (02:00)

Disc 2

  1. Scordatura briefly explained (for Biber's Rosary Sonatas)  - George Herbert  - Salvador Dali  (03:44)

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