Notes and Editorial Reviews
Annegret Siedel (vn); Bell’arte Salzburg (period instruments)
BERLIN 0300531 (2 CDs: 119:12)
Annegret Siedel plays Heinrich Biber’s 15 Mystery Sonatas and Passagalia on nine different violins—doing this with only five, over two days, I encountered constant tuning problems, with the gut strings hardly settling upon finishing a sonata and retuning for the next. The violins Siedel plays (by Jacob Stainer, 167-;
by Leonhard Maussiell I, 1740; by Leohhard Maussiell II, 1741; by Leopold Widhalm, c. 1770; by David Gabriel Buchstetter, 1760; by Gregor Ferdinand Wenger, 1743; by Andreas Jaiss, 1742; by Georg Kloz, 1765; and by Michael Kloz, 1780) all remain close to models by Nicolò Amati and Jacob Stainer. The continuo instruments vary between theorbo (Michael Freimuth), viola da gamba and violone (Hermann Hickethier), and organ, baroque harp, and harpsichord (Margrit Schultheiss), offering a wide range of sonorities for expressing the various sonatas’
. Listeners should be warned, however, that not every musicologist or performer believes that Biber conceived the works with particular illustrative effects in mind. Despite the oft-cited possible connection between the eighth-notes near the end of the third movement of the Sixth Sonata (The Agony in the Garden, the Second Sorrowful Mystery), Seidel endows them with a gentle sensibility, almost a smile, that at once belies such a pictorial interpretation and at the same time seems perfectly consistent with the music as it’s written. The same is true for the playful first Double of the
in the Eighth Sonata (The Crowning with Thorns, the Third Sorrowful Mystery)—nothing playful about that, what? Yet Siedel’s version seems as appropriate as any musically graphic attempt to portray thorns piercing the skin or bone. Then too, Johann Hermann Schmelzer’s 1683–84 Sonata on the
Victori der Christen
gives a wildly different interpretation to the music that appears in the final movement—and one of the most dramatic, at that—of Biber’s Crucifixion (the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery). (As in so many similar passages, Siedel’s genial manner blunts the nails pounded here into the Crucified’s flesh.) By contrast, her statement of the hymn in 11th Sonata (The Resurrection, the First Glorious Sonata), may strike many listeners as puzzlingly lacking in exuberance. The same is hardly true of the
in the 12th Sonata (The Ascension, the Second Glorious Mystery); but, in general, Siedel confutes expectations almost as often—and as dramatically—as she meets them, as she does in arranging the articulation and double-stops of the Guardian Angel
The engineers have captured the timbral variety of the instruments—and of the various tunings—that together create such pervasive worlds of sound in the sonatas. But they’ve also captured a great deal of noise, including what sounds like highly distracting heavy breathing. In general, the violins sound sweet rather than abrasive, although Wenger’s violin sounds a bit starchy. Siedel plays them with an ingratiating combination of suavity, authority, and brilliance—the variations of the Ciacona that constitutes the Fourth Sonata (The Presentation in the Temple, the Fourth Joyful Mystery) shift back and forth between these three manners, with singing lyricism alternating with strongly articulated chords and preternaturally rapid détachés.
It’s almost hard to remember how well hidden these works remained for so many years; bad editions that made them seem unplayable didn’t help, but intrepid violinists like Suzanne Lautenbacher nevertheless still gave creditable readings. Now a plethora of alternatives exists for listeners and collectors, just as several editions exist for violinists to study, including performances with strongly divergent underlying musical rationales, from the devout (Andrew Manze, Harmonia Mundi 907 321.22,
28:6), through the cracklingly virtuosic (John Holloway, Virgin Classics Veritas 2-59551,
4:6), and the colorfully dramatic (Eduard Melkus, Musical Heritage Society 524671W,
22:4), to the rustic and earthy (Monica Huggett, Gaudeamus 350 and 351,
28:3 and 28:6). But for those in search of a middle way between the extremes of dramatic abrasiveness and cloying sweetness, dry academicism and unbridled fancy, Siedel’s version offers much, including photos of all nine violins and a poster of Max Cardinal Galdolph’s certificate from Salzburg’s Rosary Brotherhood, suitable for framing were it not for the folds—and many may not be deterred by them. All these extras should also appeal, of course, to aficionados. Recommended, then, despite the extraneous noise.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Mystery Sonatas (15) for Violin and Basso Continuo by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Written: circa 1676; Salzburg, Austria
Venue: St. Pankratius-Kirche, Hamburg Ochsenwer
Length: 60 Minutes 45 Secs.
Passacaglia (Mystery Sonata), for violin solo in G minor, C. 105 by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Written: circa 1676; Austria
Venue: St. Pankratius-Kirche, Hamburg Ochsenwer
Length: 8 Minutes 48 Secs.
Be the first to review this title