BIBER: Fidicinium Sacro Profanum – David Plantier, violin and conductor/ Les plaisers du Parnasse – ZigZag ZZT080701, 71:47 ***** [Distr. By Allegro]:
It does seem strange to us today to come across collections of sonatas with such extraordinary titles; Biber’s own Rosary Sonatas are a prime example, one straining to hear the delicacies of rosary implications behind what otherwise sound like, well, sonatas devoid of any extra-curricular meanings. But composers of that age often used such titles for their own inspiration, and left the musical meanings to the listener. Sometimes the title was important simply to gain attention or to impart honor to a dedicatee. Is Biber here really concerned with the sacred and profane (a popular philosophical topic of the age) or is he simply giving homage to the dedicatee of the set, the prince-archbishop of Salzburg Maximilian Gandolph von Kuenburg, alluding to his dual religious and secular functions?
The full title of this work offers slight clues: Music sacred and profane for stringed instruments, arranged with art for the court and for the church. Talk about playing both sides of the fence! But the eclectic Biber was only stating out loud what most composers already knew, that the transference of one style to the other was common and acceptable, and had been done for years. If this current album had been packaged with a church on the cover, I doubt whether any of us could differentiate one that had been so-covered with a Bacchanalian fantasy on the front—the music could be seen to fit either description, something Bach would realize later on and exploit ad infinitum.
Whatever the intentions, these amalgams of dance, polyphony, theater and folk elements serve the virtuosic element wisely and eloquently. These 12 sonatas, divided into six in five parts and six in four parts offer two distinct modes of organization, the first more complex and concertante-like, while the second revels in the fiery display of the first violinist. Whichever becomes your preference, you will marvel at the superior manner in which these player tackle the always tough-sledding Biber, and render his music in a way that satisfies like few others. The sound is very close and upfront, bold and with great presence, Baroque masterpieces etched in a fine filigreed soundstage of superb depth. Wonderful stuff!
— Steven Ritter