Biber: Requiem à 15 in Concerto; Battalia à 10

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Biber
LABELS: Alia Vox
WORKS: Requiem à 15 in Concerto; Battalia à 10
PERFORMER: La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
CATALOGUE NO: AV 9825
Before Salzburg started exporting genius and chocolate balls, she imported top musical talent to animate her theatres, salons and churches. As Kapellmeister to two Archbishops, the Bohemian Biber took advantage of the Baroque Cathedral’s divine geometry to mount majestic music for multiple choirs. Savall has already issued a 23-part Mass, preserved in Brussels and currently attributed to Biber; now here’s a 15-part Requiem for one of Their Reverences. The booklet has a plan and snaps showing where in the Cathedral Savall’s five squads of voices, strings, winds and four organs were deployed for this live recording, made at the same time as that Missa Bruxellensis.

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And it suffers from the same insurmountable problem: Baroque basilicas are hell to record in. Sound dies slowly in Salzburg; Biber allowed for this, with simple, block-like textures, but he couldn’t foresee that people would hear this music without seeing it. Our eyes help marshal the mêlée of music mingling in our ears; the microphone hears no difference between this bar and the last two or three still rolling around the aisles. Listening to this is hard work (a multi-channel DVD might be something else). And the performance, though spirited, doesn’t overcome the acoustic; while the fun but irrelevant Battalia, led by the superb Manfredo Kraemer, is inappropriately recorded in another church. For the perfect polychoral punch, go to Paul McCreesh: cannily, he chose a more manageable venue for his overwhelming DG Archiv CD of Biber’s 53-part Missa Salisburgensis – promised, what’s more, on multi-channel SACD soon. Nick Morgan