Biber: Sonata No. 2; Sonata No. 3; Sonata No. 5; Sonata No. 7; Nisi Dominus; Passacaglia

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LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Sonata No. 2; Sonata No. 3; Sonata No. 5; Sonata No. 7; Nisi Dominus; Passacaglia
PERFORMER: Sonnerie; Thomas Guthrie (bass)
In 1681 Biber dedicated a collection of eight violin sonatas to the Bishop of Salzburg, Max Gandolph, whom he was then serving as vice-Kapellmeister. The music is full of technical and expressive variety, rhetorical, inventive and virtuosic. Monica Huggett plays four of the sonatas from the set, further including in her effectively chosen programme the Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin which Biber included in his better-known cycle of Rosary Sonatas, and a setting in G major for bass voice, violin and continuo of the psalm ‘Nisi Dominus’. Though it may at first seem something of an odd-man-out in an otherwise purely instrumental context, the nature, role and extent of the virtuoso solo violin writing and its relationship to the vocal sections, broken up into six verses, presents us with some fascinating tangents and stylistic blends. Thomas Guthrie declaims his music resonantly and with strongly inflected gestures. The relationship between voice, violin and continuo is vigorously sustained by Biber who concludes this unusual piece with a brilliant fugal Amen. Huggett plays the Sonatas with her accustomed sweetness of tone and attention to detail, and she is sympathetically supported by her excellent continuo group, alert, imaginative and colourful. In short, a winner. Nicholas Anderson