Leave it to creative Dutch musicians to come up with a fresh and interesting take on an area of early music that is going to win a much wider audience due to this type of presentation. Nearly all of the pieces by the wildly experimental 17th-century composer Biber have an extra-musical programme – which generally isn’t thought to be have been happening until the Romantic period in music in the 19th century. Fact is many early works had a program behind them – whether humorous or serious – not just that piece about a gallbladder operation by Kuhnau that is always brought up as an exemption.
Biber was violinist and composer to the Archbishop of Salzburg – a good deal since the prelate had not only the cash but also progressive tastes, and wanted not only church music but also instrumental works. Biber was born in Bohemia, and like Bartok centuries later, he used Bohemian and Hungarian folk tunes in some of his music. The sound of the cimbalom will be a surprise to many ears on the opening selections here and the closing “Playful Sonata.” The string orchestra is joined by the instrument usually associated with gypsy music, which was known by different names and used thruout Europe in many kinds of music.
In the Serenada a 5 Biber used a style associated with quoting street cries of vendors. The vocal performer has the part of a night watchman, informing the population of the time, reminding them to put out the fire in their hearth, and to sing praise to God. Battle Music was a standard form of the time, following a set pattern depicting the soldiers marching, the combat, a lament for those killed in the battlefield, and a victory march at the end. Biber, in Battalia, goes hog wild on the victory songs of the various soldiers – he sets them to singing simultaneously, as Charles Ives did centuries later. The clean hi-res reproduction and spatial placement of the musicians adds to one’s involvement in the music. I’m not particularly an early music aficionado, yet I loved the SACD.
– John Sunier