Biber: Mystery Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Biber
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Biber: Mystery Sonatas
WORKS: Mystery Sonatas
PERFORMER: Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch (violin); Battalia

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Since the earliest recordings of Biber’s Rosenkranz or Mystery Sonatas made during the 1960s, there has been ever-growing interest in these beautiful pieces and a wealth of recordings. In the dedication to his patron, Max Gandolph, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Biber explained that the subject of each Sonata is a section from the Catholic devotion known as the Rosary. He arranged the 15 Sonatas, scored for violin and continuo, into equal groups of Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, and concluded the cycle with an unaccompanied Passacaglia which provokes a meditative coda to the 15 central events in Christian history. This piece and the opening sonata of the set are alone in not requiring scordatura – that is, retuning of the violin strings which enables composers to achieve unconventional sounds as well as facilitating some fingerings.

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Finnish violinist Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch provides us with a powerful account of Biber’s masterpiece, bringing nobility, exuberance, severity and a strong contemplative dimension as and when the music requires. There is also a lively depictive element which she realises with vivid but restrained gestures. The Scourging (No. 7) and The Crucifixion (No. 10) provide ample testimony of Kaakinen-Pilch’s imaginative approach. The continuo group, provided by Battalia, includes harpsichord, organ, lutes, guitar and violone, and their deployment is thoughtful. Here are performances which capture south German Baroque flamboyance on the one hand and a deeply reflective spirit on the other. Few readers are likely to be unresponsive to the Aria with Variations of Sonata No. 14 or the Passacaglia. Together they illustrate both sides of the coin. An outstanding release. Nicholas Anderson