Biber on Symphonia

Walt Mundkowsky

[June 2010.]

I’m happy to find the Italian early-music label Symphonia back in the marketplace. Here’s a glance at a Biber release (inessential but lots of fun), with others to follow.

Cover of Symphonia SY 95143

Un Carnevale a Kremsier.” Heinrich I.F. BIBER: Trombet-undt Musicalischer Taffeldienst a 4 (1673); Arien a 4; Harmonia Romana; Balletti (incl. Ciacona from Serenada a 5, “Der Nachtwächter”); Arien a 4; Balletti; Balletti Lamentabili a 4 (1670) (rec. 1995, rel. 1997). Ars Antiqua Austria, Gunar Letzbor (vln & dir.). Symphonia SY 95143 (http://web.tiscali.it/symphonia_records/SYcat.html). Available from MDT (http://www.mdt.co.uk/).

Long ago I bought every recording of Biber’s Rosenkranz-Sonaten that appeared, to spur others into action. Now there are at least a dozen and I have two — Eduard Melkus’ 1967 and Reinhard Goebel’s 1990 (both Archiv). Biber is established, but this invigorating CD of earlier dancing pieces creates the soundtrack for a carnival of the era and can’t hurt.

Individual movements are brief (50 zip past in 75:01), and incorporate dizzying contrasts of color, speed and texture. Starting with trumpet fanfares shockingly transferred onto the violin, this sequence features proud melodic contours, the full range of dance forms (from flowing Sarabandes to sprightly Gavottes and Gigues), and stamping peasant rhythms. I’d hate to be without violist / basso Michael Oman’s majestic turn as a tipsy night watchman (Goebel’s version plays it straight). At the stroke of midnight, the celebration shifts to the exhausted gloom of the six-part Balletti Lamentabili.

Ars Antiqua Austria clearly relishes and understands this intricate music — even early on it was core repertoire for them. Letzbor, their leader, spent time in Goebel’s MAK, and is equally attuned to Biber’s manic high spirits and solemn interludes. With delicious, lively sound, Carnevale is a great (17th century) party album.

See W.A. Grieve-Smith’s Rosenkranz-Sonaten survey and Mike’s Biber review.