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Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644 - 1704): "Baroque Splendor - Missa Salisburgensis"

La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Le Concert des Nations; Hespèrion XXI
Dir: Jordi Savall

rec: Feb 11, 2002a; Jan 14 - 16, 2015, Cardona, Castell de Cardona (Collegiata de Sant Vicenç)
AliaVox - AVSA9912 (© 2015) (71'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/S/Cat/I; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/S/Cat*/I
(* Only hymn)
Cover, track-list & booklet

Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER: Battalia a 10 (C 61)a; Missa Salisburgensis a 53 (C App. 101); Plaudite tympana a 53 (C App. 106); Sonata Sancti Polycarpi a 9 (C 113); Bartholomäus RIEDL (c1650-1688): Ein langer und schöner Aufzug; Ist ein schöner Aufzug

[LCRdC] (Choro I) Hanna Bayodi-Hirt, soprano; Marianne Beate Kielland, mezzo-soprano; Pascal Bertin, David Sagastume, alto; Nicholas Mulroy, Lluís Vilamajó, tenor; Marco Scavazza,baritone; Daniele Carnovich, bass
(Choro V) Claudia Habermann, Carmit Natan, soprano; Gabriel Diaz, Gabriel Jublin, alto; Victor Sordo, David Hernández, tenor; Josep Ramon Olivé, baritone; Antonio Abete, bass

The Missa Salisburgensis is one of the most intriguing compositions of the baroque era. The first reason is the very fact that it is scored in 53 parts which is unique in music history. The other reason is that we don't know for sure who the composer is. For a long time it was generally assumed that the Italian composer Orazio Benevoli wrote it; in his oeuvre we find various compositions for large scorings, including a mass for 48 voices. It was also thought that this mass was written at the occasion of the consecration of the new cathedral of Salzburg in 1628. However, more recent research has revealed that it was written much later, in 1682, for the celebration of the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the archbishopric of Salburg by St Rupert. For various reasons it is assumed that the mass was written by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber.

The Missa Salisburgensis is an occasional composition. This term is sometimes used in a pejorative way, but that is unjustified. Music was one of the main avenues of representation. The splendour of a composition and its performance reflected the splendour of a court, a city or a church. If a nobleman was able to raise a large ensemble of singers and instrumentalists he was somebody. In this case the commemoration of the founding of the archbishopric of Salzburg not only underlined its importance but was also a manifestation of the superiority of the ideals of the Counter Reformation.

Obviously the large scoring and the performance in a large space prevented the composer from including harmonic extravagances in his score. Text expression was not the composer's main concern but rather a display of the event's importance and the stature of the bishopric. However, the full ensemble is not always involved in the proceedings. The score includes a number of passages which are more intimate. It is here that Biber shows his mastery of counterpoint whereas the tutti episodes are largely homophonic. A striking example of text expression through the use of daring harmonic progressions are the words "miserere nobis" from the Agnus Dei. Also notable is the treatment of the Incarnatus and the Crucifixus from the Credo; in the former we hear the upper voices whereas the latter is scored for the lower voices. The Christe eleison is one of the more intimate episodes and so is the opening of the Gloria; the entrance of the full ensemble on the word "pax" is very effective.

The mass has been preserved together with the hymn Plaudite tympana which has the same scoring. In the liner-notes in the booklet to the present recording Ernst Hintermayer discusses its liturgical function. "Until now it has been described as a 'hymn' for a ceremonial occasion which formed part of the celebrations in 1682 at St Peter's Collegiate Church, where the relics of St Rupert are still venerated to this day. In all probability the work was included in the liturgy of the Mass as the offertory." If Hintermayer is correct the Plaudite tympana should be included in the Mass, between the Credo and the Sanctus. It is regrettable that it is performed here separately, between the opening Fanfara and the Battalia. In two other recordings it is placed at the very end of the programme (McCreesh/Goebel, Archiv 1998; Balestracci, NCA 2008). This piece also supports the thesis that the Missa Salisburgensis is connected to the celebrations in 1682. "The text, which suggests that the author was a teacher at the university, is indeed a 'hymn' in praise both of St Rupert and the founding of the archbishopric of Salzburg (...)". The second section says: "Happy day, thrice pleasant, day filled with pleasures, on which we celebrate Rupert, on which we honour our patron!"

The Sonata Sancti Polycarpi is very likely also an occasional composition. It is connected to Count Polykarp von Kuenburg who in 1673 was installed as bishop of Salzburg, consecrated as bishop of Gurk in 1674 and installed in this position in August of that year. This piece may have been written for one of these occasions. It is scored for nine trumpets and timpani, divided over two choirs. The other instrumental piece is the Battalia à 10. This represents a popular genre in the 17th century; such pieces could be written for various (combinations of) instruments, including the organ. It also fits into a tradition of imitation of instruments, animals or natural phenomena in the German-Austrian violin school. The foundation of this school was laid by the Italian-born Carlo Farina who for most of his life worked in Dresden and has become best-known for his Capriccio stravagante. This Battalia is not all noise; the battle itself is the penultimate movement and takes a little over 40 seconds. It is preceded by a very different aria for strings alone which is all elegance and expression.

The disc opens with a Fanfara which is not the name of a composition but the title given to the first section of the programme including two Aufzüge by Bartholomäus Riedl, a composer of an earlier generation. One could question its inclusion: it would make more sense if this was a kind of 'liturgical reconstruction', but as we have seen this recording is nothing of the kind.

I have already mentioned two previous recordings. One of the main differences is the size of the ensembles. Both McCreesh/Goebel and Balestracci use solo voices and one or two ripieno singers per part. Savall has opted for a strictly one-per-part line-up. The danger is that the voices are overpowered by the instruments in the tutti episodes. That danger is not completely avoided here. The fact that it is not as bad as one may think is probably due to the acoustic of the recording venue which has certainly enough reverberation but less than a large cathedral. "For the recording we positioned the various choruses in the chapel of Cardona Castle so as to recreate the same spatial conditions and instrumental layout used in Salzburg Cathedral (...)". But the acoustic is certainly different: in a cathedral this line-up would probably not suffice. An inevitable effect of the positioning of the various choirs is that sometimes you hear a singer from far behind. This is a SACD and it is quite possible that this results in a stronger presence of the various groups, but as I don't have the equipment to listen in super audio I can't check.

All in all this is a very fine performance. Savall has brough together an impressive group of singers and players and if you don't have a recording of this work in your collection you may consider this one. I am sure it will give you much pleasure and you will return to it regularly.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Le Concert des Nations; Hespèrion XXI

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