Biber, Muffat, Schmelzer, Megerle & Lassus

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COMPOSERS: Biber,Megerle & Lassus,Muffat,Schmelzer
ALBUM TITLE: A Requiem for Biber
WORKS: Works by Biber, Muffat, Schmelzer, Megerle & Lassus
PERFORMER: Gabrieli Consort & Players/Paul McCreesh
CATALOGUE NO: 474 7142
This interesting programme has been devised to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Biber’s death in 1704. Its backbone consists of two strongly contrasting Masses, the Requiem in F minor which has been previously recorded on at least five occasions, and a Mass in B flat (Missa ex B a 6) which was until now entirely unfamiliar to me. The B flat piece is written for a six-strand vocal ensemble (SSATBB) – in this performance the alto line is sung by a high tenor and the tenor by a baritone – and continuo with organ. The chief contrasts within the work lie in Biber’s varying scheme of triple and duple metre which he deploys with skill and to great effect. The ethereal clarity of the voices of the Gabrieli Consort are wonderfully suited to this repertoire and there are many instances of almost mesmerising beauty. Interspersed among the sections of the Mass are vocal and instrumental items by Biber’s contemporaries Muffat, Schmelzer and Abraham Megerle and by Orlando di Lasso, who died half a century before Biber was born. The Requiem must on stylistic grounds be a later work, probably dating from the mid- to late 1690s. It is scored for five-part chorus, soloists and an instrumental ensemble consisting of strings, three trombones and organ. Both Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt have recorded this work and their versions have until now headed the list in that order. But the excellence of the Gabrieli Consort voices and instrumentalists is such that this new version leap-frogs over its illustrious predecessors to assume pride of place. Leonhardt sometimes conveys a seemingly more profound contemplative spirit than any of his rivals, yet over-all this new version under Paul McCreesh’s direction offers greater satisfaction. Nicholas Anderson