Biber: Missa bruxellensis

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COMPOSERS: Biber
LABELS: Alia Vox
WORKS: Missa bruxellensis
PERFORMER: La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
CATALOGUE NO: AV 9808
Until comparatively recently, Biber’s Missa bruxellensis, like his more frequently encountered Missa salisburgensis, was thought to be by Orazio Benevoli. Its title is not Biber’s but one referring to Brussels, where the manuscript was found. Though Biber’s authorship of both works is now regarded as pretty watertight, neither is representative of his sacred vocal style at its most interesting. The Missa bruxellensis, which probably dates from the very first years of the 18th century, may well have been Biber’s last Mass. The forces are massive and consist of eight-part double chorus, choirs of brass, timpani, bassoon and strings. The expressive content of this large-scale piece is primarily one of ostentatious display, extrovertly demonstrative and, to a great extent it would seem, complementary to the sumptuous, flamboyant architecture of central Europe.

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La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations under Jordi Savall never for a moment underplay the music’s grandeur or spacious disposition; yet neither the music, which has a persistent tonic-dominant orientation, nor the performance stirred my emotions. The acoustic of Salzburg cathedral is too reverberant for a commercial recording, though I can imagine that experiencing the architectural ambience while hearing the music might add a crucial dimension to my enjoyment. There are rough moments both in the many short passages for solo voice, and in the instrumental playing, but the occasional atmosphere is vividly conveyed. Nicholas Anderson