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Biber: Mystery Sonatas (Amandine Beyer)

Amandine Beyer (violin); Gli Incogniti (Harmonia Mundi)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Mystery Sonatas Nos 1-16
Amandine Beyer (violin); Gli Incogniti
Harmonia Mundi HMM902712.13   105:30 mins (2 discs)


Biber’s so-called Mystery Sonatas are a series of musical meditations, probably inspired by the tradition of rosary processions in which 15 stages in the life of Christ and the Virgin were the focus for devotional prayers and Biblical readings. Mirroring the rosary cycle, Biber’s 15 sonatas are divided into the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, with a final Passacaglia – a tour de force for solo violin – to close.

The works span the gamut of musical styles: plangent laments and ruminations give way to lyrical ‘arias’, lilting dances, virtuosic display pieces and dazzling variations. Biber – the Paganini of the Baroque – exploits fiery passagework, improvisatory flourishes, daredevil leaps, bariolage and multiple stoppings, not to mention scordatura – tuning the violin differently for each of the sonatas, creating, by turns, muted shades and bright sonorities.

French violinist Amandine Beyer’s technical prowess makes light work of all these challenges: her playing throughout remains poised, graceful and ever alert to the all-pervasive dance rhythms. She conveys the kaleidoscopic moods of the sonatas, enhancing their distinctive colours and effects by using four different instruments (modern copies of Baroque violins). The continuo players of Gli Incogniti respond with beautifully stylish realisations, exploiting the variegated timbres of bowed and plucked strings, organ and harpsichord.

The 2004 recording of these works by Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi) remains a benchmark – spare, intimate, prayerful – but it’s hard to resist Gli Incogniti’s more richly textured sound and the sheer joie-de-vivre they bring to these remarkable, and ultimately mysterious, works.


Kate Bolton‑Porciatti