Notes and Editorial Reviews
I recommended Monica Huggett’s first volume of Heinrich Biber’s Mystery Sonatas for “every collection of German Baroque violin-playing.” The second volume, which begins with the “Crucifixion” from the Sorrowful Mysteries (not the Joyful Mysteries, as the jewel box and booklet specify) and concludes with the guardian angel passacaglia, takes, like its predecessor, a more secular approach to the sonatas, at least in comparison with Andrew Manze’s elevated quasi-liturgical declamation. But Huggett hardly lacks flair for the drama inherent in these expressive if not graphic works (Manze suggests that the sonatas project individual underlying Affekten rather than detailed pictorial images). Her sonorous mysteriousness at the opening of the
“Descent of the Holy Ghost” succeeds in creating what she describes in her note as an “intensely and ethereal atmosphere.” As in the first volume, Sonnerie accompanies imaginatively with a variety of continuo instruments (harpsichord, archlute, and viol in the “Crucifixion”; organ and viol in the “Resurrection”; harpsichord and viol in the “Ascension”; theorbo, harp, and lirone in the “Descent”; harpsichord, guitar, and viol in the “Assumption”; and organ and viol in the “Coronation”—the “Guardian Angel” flies solo). The engineers have captured these varied splashes of color, as before, in warm but detailed recorded sound. As in the first volume, Huggett plays three violins: one by Antonius and Hieronymous Amati from 1618, an anonymous 18th-century Dutch instrument, and a 2002 violin made by Samuel Eastman. Finally, as before, she draws unexpected connections between the sometimes-crabbed style of the German Baroque and the uninhibited folk fiddling from which it must ultimately have derived. She accordingly sets sparks flying in passagework that she’s pried free from the contrapuntal webs in which it can be bound. Her rhythmic gusto in the “Coronation” lifts its melodic and harmonic materials far beyond their historical context. The passacaglia (denominated “Passagalia”) has been taken as a precursor of Bach’s Chaconne; but it’s a composition of sufficient interest to stand as more than a mere signpost. Huggett’s flexible metrical rhetoric welds its repeated thematic statements into a convincing musical design. In conjunction with the first volume of the sonatas, this one rises to an expressive level competitive, in its way, with Andrew Manze’s very different sort of fantasy. In fact, anyone interested in these sonatas must weigh both points of view. But Manze’s probing, however deep, can’t overshadow Huggett’s more extroverted but still hauntingly suggestive readings. Urgently recommended.
Robert Maxham, FANFARE
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