Biber: Rosary Sonatas

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WORKS: Rosary Sonatas
PERFORMER: Pavlo Beznosiuk (violin), David Roblou (harpsichord, chamber organ), Paula Chateauneuf (theorbo, archlute), Richard Tunnicliffe (viola da gamba, violone), Timothy West (reader)
This release turns Biber’s sonatas into a Passion full of splendour, torment and spiritual triumph. An artistic touchstone for Baroque violinists, the Rosary Sonatas have attracted period players from the pioneering Eduard Melkus through to Reinhard Goebel (both DG Archiv), and more recently Walter Reiter (Signum) and John Holloway. This set differs from previous interpretations by collating Rosary psaltery readings with each movement – on the authority of engravings of the Rosary Mystery on the cycle’s manuscript source – to invoke the Jesuit Rosary devotions for which Biber probably wrote his work. Pavlo Beznosiuk’s performance brings the narrative to life: the spiralling joy of the Virgin and the hammer-blows of the nails on the cross, emotionally described by actor Timothy West, are then realised in music by the relentless Beznosiuk. Heavy bowing, exuberant jumps through the register and the exploitation of new colours generated by the work’s scordatura (variant tuning) elucidate the programmatic and contemplative aspects of the score. Continuo players contribute essential details to each movement’s vision through their imaginative instrumentation of the bass line and their rhetorically rich realisation of the figures. What this approach might gain in mysticism, however, it loses in joy of violin playing: Biber’s famed relish in performing is swallowed up by the Jesuit setting. For those seeking the temporal, rather than spiritual, delights of these sonatas, the earlier interpretations of Reiter and Holloway are a better fit. While both artists are alert to the music’s implicit drama, Reiter highlights the violin’s potential to create atmosphere while Holloway dazzles through his precociously drawn-out melodic lines. Though stunning in its impact, this new performance may strike the secular listener as over-determined by its added text. Berta Joncus