LABELS: Alta Vox
ALBUM TITLE: Biber: Baroque Splendor – Missa Salisburgensis
WORKS: Fanfara; Plaudite tympana; Battalia; Sonata Sancti Polycarpi; Missa Salisburgensis
PERFORMER: Hespèrion XXI, Le Concert des Nations, La Capella Reial de Catalunya/ Jordi Savall
CATALOGUE NO: AVSA 9912 (hybrid CD/SACD)
This is Biber in gargantuan mode. A fanfare by Bartholomäus Riedl for merely ten trumpets and timpani introduces the motet Plaudite tympana for 54 performers: two eight-voice choirs, ensembles of strings, woodwind, cornets and trombones, strings, trumpets and timpani (two groups) and continuo. The structure and harmony is shaped by the limited notes available on natural trumpets and timpani, but when their repetitive dialogues are silent, glorious vocal and instrumental colours and counterpoints appear.
Similar brass limitations arise in the Sonata Sancti Polycarpi, but this is off-set by the dialogues across the huge spaces of the 11th-century chapel of Cordona Castle.
The Mass, like the motet in 54 parts and originally intended for Salzburg Cathedral in 1682, is a tour de force both as a composition and in this performance. It’s superbly recorded. Groups ranging from solo voices with a pair of recorders to the full ensemble complete with brass and drums are thrown across the huge spaces of the chapel with palpable excitement and thrilling effect. The reverberation lasts over five seconds, yet every detail in the small-scale passages is crystal clear, and the sheer weight of the full forces is shattering. Even in simple stereo, the effect is magnificent, but it’s all the better if you enjoy the added aural dimensions of SACD.
Biber’s Battalia (reissued from 2002) is completely bizarre, including drunken soldiers singing eight unrelated songs simultaneously, although fortunately for only 47 seconds. George Pratt