Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Austrian violin music, with fireworks

The violinist Gunar Letzbor and Ars Antiqua Austria have come to the end of their 3-disc project to record all the music in Manuscript XIV 726 of the Minoritenkonvent in Vienna, and there's plenty of high quality violin sonatas left to make an entertaining, if low-key programme for the last CD, to be released May 27, 2016. Biber is the big name in this bunch, and his sonatas included here are the most substantial and serious works. The Forte Presto second movement of his F major sonata, no. 3, has a hair-raising beginning. Something is going on here: a battle scene, perhaps, or a storm. Maybe this is the Sturm before the Sturm und Drang. Biber is never conventional.

Though the violin part calls for an excellent musician, even a virtuoso at times (and Letzbor delivers on both scores), this music is about much more than the solo line. The continuo, provided by Ars Antiqua Austria's Eric Traxler (harpsichord or organ), Hubert Hoffmann (lute), Daniel Oman (colascione*), and Jan Krigovsky (violone), provide a varied sound that I suspect comes as much from the musical sensibilities of the group as it does from the scores from the monastery. This variety is welcome, though not as important once one comes to Biber's fireworks in the last part of the disc.

The first two discs in this excellent series, both highly recommended, are: Scordato, from 2015:

and Anonymous, from 2014:

* Yeah, I didn't know what a colascione was either. Also called a gallichon or a mandora, this is a bass lute.

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