Notes and Editorial Reviews
The first volume of Monica Huggett’s set of Biber Mystery Sonatas swells a spate of recordings that has freshened the waters during the last year. In fact, sets by the redoubtable Andrew Manze, by Pavlo Beznosiuk (AVIE AV0038), and by Huggett have come my way during the last month alone. Can it be due to the delayed effects of various Biber anniversaries? Or to awakening of interest in a sort of new-age spirituality (but how would that account for the new recordings of Biber’s Sonatas of 1681)? Or might it be simply the revival of interest in the German Baroque (but then why do Schmelzer and Walther await similar attention)? Perhaps Monica Huggett has given the best explanation in her brief note: Biber’s Mystery Sonatas showcase violinistic
effects in music of genius (the same explanation might have been given for the resounding explosion of Vivaldi’s violin concertos in the 1950s). And that’s the way she plays the pieces: she revels in their virtuosity without losing sight of the Affekten the music explores. Her twangy, nasal timbre seems more likely to result from her approach than to emanate from her instrument, since she plays three: an Antonius and Hieronymous Amati from 1618, an anonymous 18th-century Dutch violin, and one made by Samuel Eastman in 2002—identification’s difficult because of the varied tunings from sonata to sonata). It’s the kind of sound that could put off those who prefer a more modern aesthetic, but it’s appropriate to Huggett’s remark that Biber also played the street fiddler in these works. In any case, her energy sweeps away distinctions between modern and period sound. That energy also explains in part her shorter timings compared to those of Andrew Manze, who takes about eight minutes more to read the first nine sonatas. Sonnerie varies the continuo realization from sonata to sonata, providing welcome variety for those who wish to listen to the cycle (or at least to this first part of it) as a whole: organ, theorbo, harp, viol, guitar, lirone, and archlute appear alone or in combinations of two or three instruments, consistently complementing the brilliant violin part with some fresh sonority. This variety constitutes a critical difference between Manze’s set and hers—Manze played on a single violin, taking it on a spiritual journey from relaxation to tension to relaxation and Richard Egarr varied the continuo only between harpsichord and organ. While Manze’s approach results in a more introspective, nearly liturgical atmosphere, Huggett strikes a more secular chord. Closer to the mainstream, Huggett nevertheless stands out from it by virtue of her exuberance. Even without its second volume, then, Huggett’s reading should find its way into every collection of German Baroque violin-playing. Strongly recommended.
Robert Maxham, FANFARE
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