Ars Antiqua Austria Perform Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber

Biber's Sonatae Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes played by Ars Antiqua Austria, directed by Gunar Letzbor.

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COMPOSERS: Biber
LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber
WORKS: Sonatae Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes
PERFORMER: Ars Antiqua Austria/Gunar Letzbor
CATALOGUE NO: CC72676

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With recordings of Biber’s multitasking sonata set by The Rare Fruits Council (on Naïve) and Combattimento Consort Amsterdam (Challenge Classics) only available as downloads, those in search of the complete Sonatae Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes (‘Sonatas as much for the altar as the table’) on disc have a straight choice between the English perspectives of The Parley of Instruments (Helios) and The Purcell Quartet (Chaconne). Now, however, Biber – who spent the last 34 years of his life working in Salzburg – is coming home, as Gunar Letzbor’s crack Austrian ensemble does the composer-violinist and his sonatas addressed both to church and court, proud.

Scored for between five to eight players and continuo, shot through with the contrasting brilliance of martial trumpets and the sumptuous anchoring richness of up to three violas – which outnumber the brighter violins – the sonatas inhabit a public pomp and circumstance that makes room for a serenity and intimacy that taps into Biber’s stylus phantasticus hinterland.

Period-instrument ensemble Ars Antiqua Austria takes the contrapuntal dexterity by the scruff of the neck and the musicians revel in readings that ooze brio and boisterous élan. Just occasionally the meticulous rhythmic accentuation threatens to render the verve over-combative, but Sonata No. 9’s sly, perky charm and melodramatic grandstanding are held in savvy equilibrium.

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Wonderfully clear and detailed, Challenge Classic’s surround-sound recording perfectly complements the ensemble’s incisive vitality. Paul Riley