Biber Chamber Works
Biber’s violin sonatas are becoming ever more popular, and quite right too. The two big sets – the eight published in 1681, and the 12 so-called ‘Rosary’ or ‘Mystery’ Sonatas – have already been the subject of several memorable recordings, but Ricordo have mined the archives of central Europe to emerge with a programme of Biber rarities, a bundle of youthful experiments, variants, rejects and one-offs which makes an excellent complement to the existing recorded collections.
As it happens, only two of the pieces are not currently available elsewhere, but this is the first disc to gather them together like this, offering a fascinating insight into the workings of the mind of this larger-than-life composer. For this is Biber at his most uninhibited, prepared to spend nearly three minutes fiddling around on one chord, to kick up his heels in a furious hoe-down, or to pick up Schmelzer’s little Pastorella for two violins and continuo and shake it rudely into a vehicle for a single violinist’s virtuoso display (Ricordo offer us both works for comparison). A better balance between flamboyance and discipline may mean that the more famous sonatas are the best of Biber, but these tasty leftovers add to our knowledge of him and affection, too.
That they are not first-rate Biber does not really matter anyway, because Ricordo demand hearing in their own right. In concert they specialise in playing from memory, and there is little doubt that in their début CD they have got these particular works thoroughly worked into their system. Violinist Kati Debretzeni inevitably takes the limelight, making a strong impression with her free-flowing bow, boldly projected sound and fizzing fingerwork, but the group’s other three core members – theorbo-player Matthew Wadsworth, gambist Alison McGillivray and keyboard-player Robert Howarth – are with her all the way.
Wadsworth also serves up an accomplished rendition of the Passacaglia for solo lute, while two ‘guest players’ also contribute strongly. Everywhere, in fact, there is the exuberant, carefree music-making which comes from fine young players showing a natural joy in performance, and which suggests that in Ricordo we have a new Baroque group of enormous promise.