Biber: Mystery (Rosary) Sonatas; G minor Passacaglia

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LABELS: Gaudeamus
WORKS: Mystery (Rosary) Sonatas; G minor Passacaglia
PERFORMER: Monica Huggett (violin); Sonnerie
This disc completes Monica Huggett’s recording of Biber’s 15 Mystery or Rosary Sonatas. Reviewing the first volume in November, I remarked upon Huggett’s sharply defined gestures, and the way in which her spiky articulation served the interests of vivid illustration. Though Biber’s Mystery Sonatas are not programmatic they are nevertheless inspired by the 15 central events in the life of Christ and of Christian history and are frequently depictive. Huggett’s imaginative approach and lively response to detail are among the most rewarding aspects of her version of these emotionally rewarding pieces. Biber arranged his sonatas into three equal groups of Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. Huggett’s second disc contains the fifth and last of the ‘Sorrowful Mysteries’, the five ‘Glorious Mysteries’ and the unaccompanied G minor Passacaglia which appears at the end of Biber’s manuscript but which is not part of the Rosary cycle. Carelessly and inappropriately, however, ‘The Crucifixion’ is classed as one of the ‘Joyful Mysteries’, both on the cover and in the booklet tracklisting. The size and character of the continuo group plays a decisive role in determining the range of colours employed in bringing these works to life. Huggett prefers a richer pool of instruments – viola da gamba, lirone, archlute, theorbo, Baroque guitar, harp, organ or harpsichord – to draw upon than the basic keyboard continuo of her recent competitor in the field, Andrew Manze (also reviewed in November). Choosing between these two performing concepts is difficult. The contemplative spirit within me marginally prefers Manze’s more ascetic approach, which reaches the heart of the music with fewer distractions than any of his rivals. Nicholas Anderson