Tales of Sound and Fury: Biber and Telemann Mad Songs

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COMPOSERS: Biber,Telemann
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Tales of Sound and Fury
WORKS: Biber and Telemann Mad Songs
PERFORMER: Karin Dahlberg (soprano); Camerata Nordica/Terje Tonnesen
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2256 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Prepare yourself to embrace the bizarre and bonkers virtuosity of Restoration mad songs and works by Biber and Telemann in these arrangements by Terje Tønnesen and Mihkel Kerem.

Recorded over the last decade by this hugely versatile Swedish ensemble, these are stylish and commanding performances, including a healthy dose of the Baroque grotesque: chattering of the insane, moaning of the wounded, and spluttering of the drunk. The startling sound world established in New Mad Tom of Bedlam (Anon), infuses the whole programme of unpredictable tales from the Baroque underworld, threatening the most conventional moments with the chance of an unholy interruption. Karin Dahlberg’s contrasting theatrical speech and velvet tone brings dramatic intensity to the remaining disturbed and melancholic mad songs (John Eccles and Henry Purcell), which alongside arresting drum improvisations punctuate three suites by Heinrich Biber.

In ‘re-imagining’ Biber’s own brand of crazy, Camerata Nordica introduce new, distant flavours particularly through their improvising on Transylvanian folk instruments (Sonata Jucunda). By their own admission the arrangements of these works take Biber’s stylus fantasticus to ‘[il]logical conclusions’, striving not for any conventional authenticity, but rather to portray the creative essence of the works. For all the extended string techniques evoking everything from realistic battle sounds, frogs and cats, and a vast array of fowl (Sonata Representativa), the tight ensemble never undermines Biber’s original rhythmic textures and fragile lyricism (notably in the Aria from Battalia). Rhetorical interpretation is maintained to the conclusion of this Document in Madness: a lively performance of Telemann’s overtly flamboyant Ouverture Burlesque de Quixotte.

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Hannah French