Biber: Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum
Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum (Sacred and Secular Music) was Biber’s last sonata publication and has received less attention from record companies than some of the earlier collections of sonatas, suites and balletti. Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum was issued in about 1682 and consists of 12 sonatas. Six of them are scored for two violins, two violas and continuo while the remaining six (Nos 7-12) dispense with one of the violins. These wonderfully varied pieces reveal Biber’s consummate skill in writing chamber music as well as the diverse traditions upon which he drew. He was a contemporary of Corelli whose manner, both technical and expressive, is mildly evoked in the penultimate C minor Sonata. There are also echoes elsewhere of Biber’s contemporary Georg Muffat.
Gunar Letzbor and his Ars Antiqua Austria are among pre-eminent artists in bringing to life the Austrian and Bohemian music of the 17th century. This disc leaves us in no doubt about their disciplined ensemble playing and their feeling for lively characterisation if, on occasion, at the expense of gentler inflections. In some respects the B minor Sonata, with which Biber begins his opus, is the most interesting. Variation technique, whose diversely treated refrain is contained in an elegiac Adagio, forms its basis from which emerges colourful gestures, surprising harmonic shifts and expressive contrasts. To a greater or lesser extent these features recur in the remaining sonatas whose individuality is often strengthened by the rhythms of folk music.