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Biber: Violin Sonatas
“While the more famous Mystery Sonatas have quickly found friends, the 1681 set is still largely unknown. Yet what's immediately noticeable from this premiere recording of the sonatas is that Biber isn't only a legendary virtuoso, probably never bettered in the 17th or 18th centuries, but one of the most inventive composers of his age: bold and exciting, certainly, but also elusive, mercurial and mysterious. Most of the works are preludes, arias and variations of an unregulated nature: improvisatory preludes over naked pedals and lucid arias juxtaposing with eccentric rhetorical conceits are mixed up in an unpredictable phantasm of contrast, and yet at its best it all adds up to a unified structure of considerable potency.
Andrew Manze is the player par excellence for music that requires a considered response to complement the adventurous spirit of the virtuoso.
This is masterful playing in which he doesn't overcharacterise Biber's volatile temperament.
The preludes are sweet and restrained, yet there's also a held-back, almost smouldering quality, skilfully pitched against the free-wheeling energy of the fast music.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Biber: Violin Sonatas (1681)
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. His technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning.
The collection Sonatae, violino solo (1681), begins with a sonata in A major and ends with an unusual triosonata for solo violin, again in A major. Each sonata presents a special character, a specific colour, its own independent writing style with its peculiar form; no two are alike! The sonatas show that Biber was capable of music of great beauty and reflection as well as virtuosity.
In the Sonata Representativa, one finds Biber's instrumental impressions of cuckoos, frogs, cats and marching musketeers. These are supplied with a simple ground bass that provides plenty of room for the soloist to stretch out and show off, but are written at such a high level of difficulty that few violinists attempt to master them.
“A no-holds-barred account of this eight-sonata set, together with the Sonata Representativa. Letzbar meets Biber's technical demands masterfully.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2011 ****
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Biber: Violin Sonatas
“John Holloway has contributed as much as anyone to modern-day recognition of Biber's status as one of the greatest of all violinist-composers. In his notes he draws attention to the difference in character between the sonatas in normal tuning and those that asl for scordatura or altered tunings, citing the latter (Nos 4 and 6 from the published set) as 'more intimate, more personal'. But actually this is the side which comes across most strongly in these performances anyway, at the expense of the extrovert maybe, but with no shortage of effective musical moments nevertheless; the point halfway through the Sixth Sonata when the violin re-emerges retuned and with a veiled new sound is managed with ghostly beauty.
With the violin resonating pleasingly through the many double- and triple-stoppings, and Holloway's bowing demonstrating a delicious lightness and freedom, these fundamentally inward, tonally aware performances also seem to have more of the smell of the 17th century about them than their current rivals (including Manze's, reviewed above),which push the violin's sound out a bit more. A respectfully resonant recording is a help here, as is the gentle but effectively unfussy continuo support of harpsichord and organ.
Anyone who already has the Manze need have no qualms about adding this one to their collection.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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