Biber: Requiem in A; Vesperae

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COMPOSERS: Biber
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Requiem in A; Vesperae
PERFORMER: Els Bongers, Anne Grimm (soprano), Kai Wessel, Peter de Groot (alto), Marcel Reyans, Simon Davies (tenor), René Steur, Kees-Jan de Koning (bass)Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-91725-2 DDD
The 350th anniversary of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s birth this year has at last stimulated some interest in his vocal music, until recently overshadowed by his instrumental output, and this is the first ever recording of the Requiem in A major. (It follows hot on the heels of Philip Pickett’s version of the more well-known F minor Requiem.) A major is not a key generally associated with mourning – and far from being dolorous, this is a positively triumphal work, extravagantly scored to include trumpets, trombones and timpani. Koopman’s expansive reading certainly conveys the music’s grandeur, and he draws a suitably impressive range of colour from his performers, with individual but well-matched vocal soloists and some first-rate brass playing. My only reservation is that his stately pacing occasionally results in a slight lack of dramatic tension.

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Alongside the Requiem are two items from Biber’s impressive polychoral setting of vespers – the psalm ‘Dixit Dominus’ and the Magnificat. Here, too, the Amsterdam musicians are in fine form, and Biber – himself one of the great violinists of the day – sneaks in some virtuoso passages for the violins, which are tossed off with admirable panache. Kate Bolton