Ars Antiqua Austria, Gunar Letzbor
Challenge Classics CC72676
Just as some people consider Brahms’ first symphony as Beethoven’s tenth, this set of 12 sonatas by Biber is clearly a follow on from Schmelzer’s similarly titled Sacro-profanus concentus musicus. Opening and closing with majestic works for pairs of trumpets and violins, four violas and continuo, the set also includes a rich variety of scorings – though the majority of the sonate a cinque are for two violins, three violas and continuo, they also include two in which the second violin is replaced by a trumpet (one of them in the unusual key of G minor), and another where pairs of trumpets and violins dialogue over a ground bass. There are also three sonate a sei for strings alone. This is yet another recording of the set, though, that does not include the 12 pieces (ten in C, two in G minor) for a pair of trumpets. Some sonatas have harpsichord continuo, while others have organ; I found the latter slightly invasive on occasion, particularly when the lower violas started an imitative section and were obscured by the higher pitched continuo lines. Given that only three of the original part-books have survived, there is not a great deal to be said about these pieces, but Letzbor manages to fill six pages with descriptions of them: “The violins’ leap over an octave provides a sweeping gesture – a display of irrepressible vitality. The wildness progresses further into an absurd demisemiquaver motif. A falling triadic tune in triple time has a settling influence in the third part; the violas keep calm, unhurriedly swaying back and forth in longer notes. An echo effect causes the tempo to slow down.” Try and match that to your listening experience and tell us which sonata it refers to!