Biber: Harmonia Artificiosa-Ariosa

La Tempesta, Patrick Bismuth
86:32 (2 CDs in a wallet)
NoMadMusic NMM024

Each of the seven suites that make up Biber’s HAA has its own character, largely dictated by the composer’s chosen scordatura for the two treble instruments. They are joined throughout on this new recording by theorbo and harpsichord or organ with extra contributions from cello, viola da gamba, violone and harp; sometimes there are harmonic realisations of the continuo line, sometimes these are merely played as supporting melodies. I largely enjoyed the performances, though the acoustic was a little too vast for the group, and I found some of the continuo playing slightly invasive (with Biber’s already complicated multi-stopping lines dialoguing, there is no need to have the accompanists vying for attention, too.) Compared to the booklet note, though, that is as nothing; quite apart from the most awkward translations (“For everyone’s listening pleasure, the ensemble offers a transfiguration of academic music without denaturing it”), I could have done entirely without Patrick Bismuth’s four pages relating the seven sonatas to the Creation or his likening Biber’s thought processes to the Mandala (“a sound environment, a set, made, however, of right angles, dots and circles”.) It is just as well the performances are so persuasive, though I am sure to remain faithful to The Purcell Quartet’s version for the time being.

Brian Clark