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Biber: Fidicinium Sacro-profanum / Letzbor, Ars Antiqua Austria

Biber / Letzbor / Ars Antiqua Austria
Release Date: 01/14/2014 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72575  
Composer:  Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Biber’s 12 string sonatas titled Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum (Sacred and Profane fiddle music) are relatively unassuming works designed to be performed during church services. They are based primarily on the Italian church sonata form and, like other similar string settings of the period, are moderately complex yet beautiful works abundant in rich chromaticism, harmonic diversity, and textural intricacy. Whatever “profanity” inferred by the title has to do with Biber’s clever lacing of subtle dance motifs and programatic allusions throughout the sonatas that belie the limitations of the score’s typical Allegro, Adagio, Presto, etc. indications.

I’ve been a fan of Ars Antiqua Austria and its illustrious director, Gunar Letzbor,
Read more for many years. With the lone exception of their bizarre, unusually mild-mannered recording of Bach’s Orchestral Suites (Chesky), I’ve admired all of their recordings, which typically feature unfairly neglected repertoire–a prime example being a program of Georg Muffat chamber sonatas (see reviews archive)–and this one is no exception. Like their previous efforts, the performances here are characterized by crisp articulation, imaginative rhythmic and dynamic diversity, lively tempos, and of course, peerless ensemble. There are however, a few interpretive disparities, as well as generally questionable tempo choices that at times seem inappropriate for performance in an ecclesiastical setting.

Their intensely brisk rendering of the final Allegro of the 5th Sonata and the first three Allegros of the 6th Sonata (spiced with percussive violin) is certainly exciting yet hardly contextually fitting as an interlude during a Mass. Compare as well Ars Antiqua Austria’s timings with the Clemencic Consort’s premiere 1988 recording (Accord). Like Ars Antiqua Austria, the Clemencic Consort also performs on period instruments, articulate just as clearly, and benefit from excellent sound–yet their performance never has a tendency to undermine the reverential aspect of these brief, intentionally passive works. For example, Ars Antiqua Austria completes that previously mentioned 6th Sonata in 3:45; the Clemencic Consort takes 5:37. The Clemencic Consort finishes its complete cycle in 66 minutes; Ars Antiqua Austria does so in (an admittedly often thrilling) 46:40.

The sound is quite good with excellent clarity especially in the upper strings. Letzbor’s informative and enthusiastic notes (notably his often emotional telling of how this recording came to be) are a joy to read. This is Ars Antiqua Austria’s sixth Biber recording, and, taking into consideration his stunning cycle of Biber’s well-known Mystery Sonatas (see reviews archive), Letzbor’s seventh. If you’re a Biber enthusiast (and if not, why not?) and somehow are not familiar with this extraordinary ensemble and director, you’d do well to seek out some of those earlier, though now sadly out-of-circulation offerings. Recommended with reservations.

-- John Greene, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 9 by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
2.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 8 by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
3.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 7 in D major by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
4.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 6 in A minor by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
5.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 5 in C Major by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
6.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 4 in G minor by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
7.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 3 in D minor by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
8.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 2 in F major by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
9.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 12 in A major by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
10.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 11 in C minor by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
11.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 10 by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
12.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum: Sonata no 1 in B minor by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 
13.
Fidicinium sacroprofanum by Heinrich Ignaz Biber
Performer:  Gunar Letzbor (Violin)
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1683; Salzburg, Austria 

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