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"Biber & Biber - Sonatas for trumpets, strings and continuo"

Gabriele Cassone, trumpeta; Roberto Falcone, violinb
Ensemble 'Pian & Forte'
Dir: Antonio Frigé

rec: Nov 19 - 20, 1998, Genova
Dynamic - DM8001 (R) (© 2010) (68'47")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Carl Heinrich VON BIBER (1681-1749): Sonata for trumpet, strings and bc in Ca; Sonata for trumpet, strings and bc in Da; Sonata for trumpet, strings and bc in Ca; Sonata for 4 trumpets, strings, timpani and bc; Sonata for 4 trumpets, strings, timpani and bc; Sonata Paschalis for 4 trumpets, strings and bc; Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704): Partia V for two violins and bc in g minor (C 66) [2]; Sonata IV a 5 for trumpet. strings and bc in Ca (C 117) [1]; Sonata VII a 5 for two trumpets, 2 violins and bc in G (C 120) [1]; Sonata representativa for violin and bc in A (C 146)b

Sources: Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, [1] Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes, 1676; [2] Harmonia ariosa-artificiosa, 1696

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber is one of the most important representatives of the German violin school which developed in the second half of the 17th century. In his various jobs in Bohemia and Austria he wrote a large number of pieces for violin solo as well as music for string ensemble. But he also composed music with parts for one or two trumpets. The two sonatas on this disc are both from a collection which was printed in 1676 under the title Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes (Sonatas as much for the altar as for the table). It is not quite clear when exactly these sonatas were written and where they were to be performed. From 1668 to 1670 Biber was at the service of the bishop of Olmütz, Karl Leichtenstein-Castelcorno, and in the musical archives of his chapel some of the sonatas have been preserved in manuscript. The famous Bohemian trumpeter Pavel Vejvanovský was also at the service of the bishop, and Biber could well have been inspired by his great skills, as the trumpet parts are technically demanding. But it is also possible he has written these sonatas when he was already at the service of Archbishop of Salzburg, Maximilian Gandolph von Khuenburg, to whom they are dedicated.

Biber had 11 children, of whom only four survived childhood: two sons and two daughters, who were all skilled musicians. Carl Heinrich was already taking part in the performance of two of his father's schooldramas at the age of 11. In 1704 he travelled to Rome, apparently to entend his skills in violin playing. Like his father he worked at the court in Salzburg. In 1714 he became vice-Kapellmeister and in 1743 Kapellmeister. He composed exclusively for the church, and his 31 sonatas are also composed for ecclesiastical use. The Sonata Paschalis is one of the sonatas which bears witness to that. It begins with a grave for strings alone, and is followed by a festive presto. Here as well as in the two other sonatas with four trumpet parts one of the trumpets gets a solo role, whereas the other trumpets and the timpani only play in tutti episodes. The three sonatas for one trumpet - called sonata ŕ clarino solo - are all in three movements, fast-slow-fast. Unlike his father Carl Heinrich wasn't a composer of high reputation. But these sonatas are nice works, and certainly will have met the requirements of instrumental music for the liturgy.

We return to Heinrich. Two of his pieces for strings alone are also included. Today these are available in various recordings, but that probably wasn't the case at the time this disc was first released. The Sonata representativa is an early specimen of a piece in which the violin imitates animals, like the nightingale, the hen and the cat. This was the kind of stuff representatives of the German violin school were very fond of. Here Biber follows in the footsteps of Carlo Farina (c1604-1639), the Italian violin virtuoso who for a number of years worked in Dresden and greatly inspired German violinists. He also imitated various animals in his famous Capriccio stravagante.

This piece as well as the Partia V (from Harmonia ariosa-artificiosa) are available in a number of recordings. In some of these they are definitely performed better than on this disc. The addition of percussion in the Sonata representativa doesn't make things any better - on the contrary. On the whole I am not that impressed by the string playing of the Ensemble 'Pian e Forte'. Technically it is alright, but the interpretation is rather bland and not very engaging. The playing of Gabriele Cassone is this disc's main attraction, and the reason to recommend it. One may be surprised by the technical perfection of Cassone's playing, in particular in regard to intonation. After all, the natural trumpet has the reputation of being very hard to play in tune. But it should be noted that, although this is not mentioned in the booklet, Cassone - like most modern players of the natural trumpet - uses an instrument which has fingerholes in order to improve the intonation. But even with such 'unhistorical' additions the natural trumpet is hard to play correctly, and therefore Gabriele Cassone's performances deserve praise.

The booklet contains liner-notes in English. These could have been more informative. In particular about Carl Heinrich and his sonatas we get very little. The track-list omits the keys of any of the pieces, information about scoring is inaccurate - that of the first sonata mentions a "clarinet". The source of Partia V is not mentioned. The fact that this disc is a reissue - probably at budget price - is no excuse for a sloppy booklet.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Gabriele Cassone
Ensemble Pian & Forte

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