Leave it to the risk-taking spirit of Jordi Savall to program one of Biber's most secular masterpieces, his famous Battalia, alongside one of the composer's most sacred devotional inspirations (composed abruptly after the sudden death of his long-standing friend and patron Archbishop Maximillian Gandolph), the rarely heard Requiem in A. As a study in contrast, or simply as a testament to Biber's brilliance in both genres, Savall's ambitious offering succeeds famously. Prepare yourself for one of the more curious Battalias in a very competitive field, as well as for a recording of the Requiem as close to perfection as you're ever likely to hear.
Compared to many other performances ofRead more the Battalia Savall downplays the programmatic action, which gives the piece an uncharacteristic "abstract" quality. For example, his rendering of the notorious second-movement allegro, while imbued with sufficient instrumental alacrity, lacks sheer dissonance (and hence humor) compared to the biting hydra-headed spectacle Il Giardino Armonico makes of it, or the splendid instrumental collapse that has long endeared the Concentus Musicus Wien's performance to many listeners (including this one). Likewise in the fourth-movement "Der Mars" (march), where with the first violin the basses (with paper covering the strings to heighten the rumbling effect) are struck by their bows in imitation of a fife and drum, Savall's rendering amply alludes to the subject matter though lacks the diabolical wit of Musica Antiqua Köln's performance or the boldness and drama that Concentus Musicus offers. However, in the seventh-movement "Die Schlacht", Savall's rendering is as rapid-fire and vital as any. Equally, the pizzicato of the first and second violin in the final Lamento (in imitation of cannons in the distance) arguably is one of the most acoustically convincing.
The only other significant recording of this Biber Requiem is Ton Koopman's 1994 Erato performance. It's a fine reading, well-recorded and beautifully sung, though in many ways it is outclassed by Savall's glorious achievement. First, Savall has chosen to record in the Salzburg Cathedral, the original setting where Biber deliberately took into account aspects of the interior architecture and acoustics. Besides positioning the orchestra on the altar, for additional antiphonal impact Biber also stationed two choral groups and two quartets of instrumentalists in each of the four choirs that surround the transept.
Even without requiring a five-channel SACD or audio DVD rig, Alia Vox's engineers have captured a unique illusionary sense of space that makes Erato's sound stage seem comparatively flat and dimensionless. Unlike Koopman, for authenticity's sake Savall also includes a brief funeral march (an instrumental theme taken from the Sanctus) as a prelude. As usual Savall has enlisted some of today's finest singers (including countertenors Pascal Bertin and Carlos Mena) and instrumentalists (notably his long-standing percussionist extraordinaire Pedro Estevan). From the delicate grandeur of the Introitus and the Kyrie, through the mesmerizing Offertorium, to the triumphant spirit of the Communio finale, Biber's glorious music could not be better served. This live performance from May, 1999 surely was a major event and Biber fans should rejoice in the fortune of this magnificent keepsake. [2/15/2003]
--John Greene, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Requiem a 15by Heinrich Ignaz Biber Conductor:
La Capella Reial de Catalunya,
Le Concert des Nations
Period: Baroque Written: 17th Century; Bohemia Date of Recording: 05/24/1999 Venue: Live Salzburg Cathedral, Austria Length: 44 Minutes 27 Secs. Notes: This selection is sung in Greek and Latin.
Great music great performanceNovember 24, 2012By Michael Gifford (North Shore, Auckland)See All My Reviews"A delight to listen to this recording of beautiful music played by a superb musician, Jordi Savall."Report Abuse