Biber: Missa Salisburgensis a 53

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COMPOSERS: Biber
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Missa Salisburgensis a 53
PERFORMER: Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-25506-2
When Biber deserted his post to move to Salzburg, his ex-patron granted that ‘he composes tolerably well’ – faint praise indeed for the author of this towering masterpiece of baroque extravagance, its score 82cm deep to accommodate choir, vocal soloists and a plethora of strings, wind, brass and timpani, 53 parts in all.

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The Mass reflects, indeed outreaches, the Venetian tradition of multiple ensembles in overwhelming ‘surround-sound’. Koopman’s superb forces perform it in its original cathedral setting, with over eight seconds of reverberation. But both Biber’s judicious pacing of harmony and the subtle engineering of this recording retain every kaleidoscopic detail, barring moments when musical continuity requires quiet soloists to enter under the shadow of an echoing tutti. Balance is remarkable: high recorders match trumpets, contrasting pairs of voices alternate between the structural pillars of the whole mighty ensemble. Biber’s setting is vividly pictorial: dark bass voices for burial; an extended single note, festooned in bounding figures, confirming ‘one church’; a hysteria of fervent ‘amens’. Two sonatas provide timbral contrast, flamboyant trumpets and timpani moving in a stately harmonic slow march.

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A recording to transport you straight to 1682 and a sumptuous festival in the awe-inspiring splendour of Salzburg Cathedral.