Biber: Rosenkranzsonaten 1

Anne Schumann violin, Sebastian Knebel Friedelshausen organ 1699
40:24
Querstand VKJK1423
Sonatas 1-5 + Buxtehude: Passacaglia BuxWV161

This is the first of three CDs that present each of the three sections of Biber’s print with different church organs in Thuringia. The first, the joyful mysteries, features an organ by an unknown maker from 1699, located in a gallery above the altar, which was restored to something akin to its original state (the Flöte traversiere stop was probably added in the 18th century) in 1990. As Gunar Letzbor has written in many CD booklets, the sounds performing musicians hear are very different to the experience of their audiences and I fear that the love that Anne Schumann and Sebastian Knebel share for this particular venue is based more on what they hear than what we do. That is not to say that these are not fabulous performances – indeed they rate very highly in my “best ever” for this marvellous repertoire – but I have to be honest and I found the recording (something for which Querstand are renowned and it pains me to be negative!) imbalanced in the organ’s favour. Biber’s scordatura means that the timbre of the violin is constantly changing, tuning is difficult to manage, and generating a lot of volume from strings that are either more tense or more loose than usual is a technical minefield so equalizing the two instruments was never going to be easy. Perhaps they – like Letzbor – are consciously striving for a realistic representation of the actual sound, of course! The Biber is preceded by the sound of the church bells and followed by a Passacaglia by Buxtehude. I do look forward to hearing the next volume of the set.

Brian Clark