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Concert reviews

Biber: Rosenkranz-Sonaten & Rosenmüller: Lamentationes Jeremiae

Ensemble Ausonia
concert: April 9, 2014, Utrecht, Geertekerk

Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704): Rosenkranz-Sonaten (Sonata VI in c minor 'Christi Leiden am Ölberg'; Sonata VII in F 'Die Geißelung'; Sonata VIII in B flat 'Die Dornenkrönung'; Sonata IX in a minor 'Die Kreuztragung'; Sonata X in g minor 'Die Kreuzigung'); Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Maddalena alla croce, sonetto spirituale; Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Lamentation faite sur la mort très douloureuse de Sa Majesté Impériale, Ferdinand le troisième in F (FbWV 633); Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1694): Lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae (3. Lektion zum Gründonnerstag (2 versions); 3. Lektion zum Karfreitag); Matthias WECKMANN (1616-1674): Toccata in e minor

Raquel Andueza, soprano; Mira Glodeanu, violin; James Munro, violone; Jesús Fernández Baena, lute; Frédérick Haas, harpsichord, organ

The Lamentations of Jeremiah are an important part of the liturgy of Holy Week. Many settings are known and are regularly performed and recorded, such as those by Thomas Tallis, Orlandus Lassus and Tomás Luis de Victoria. From the baroque era the Leçons de Ténèbres which were written by various French composers in the late 17th and the early 18th century are rather well-known, for instance those by Charpentier and Couperin. Far less known are the setttings by the German composer Johann Rosenmüller. Parts of his set of lamentations were performed during a concert by the Ensemble Ausonia in Brussels and in the Netherlands during the first two weeks of April. I attended their performance in Utrecht.

Rosenmüller spent the first part of his career in Leipzig. When he was accused of a pedosexual offence he fled to Italy where he remained until the last years of his life. Although he composed a large amount of music and the interest in his oeuvre is growing there is still much to be discovered. Most of his sacred works were probably intended for the German market, although it can't be excluded that his compositions on a Latin text may have been performed in Venice, where he lived since his departure from Germany. The Lamentations are quite dramatic, and they show how much Rosenmüller was influenced by the Italian style. That influence dates from well before he left Germany. In this respect he can be compared to Handel: both were Italians by heart. The dramatic features of Rosenmüller's settings were perfectly conveyed by Raquel Andueza who made most of the texts. The Sonnetto spirituale by Frescobaldi, Maddalena alla croce, also received a stylish and expressive performance.

The other main composer on the programme was Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. Unlike Rosenmüller's Lamentations his Rosenkranz-Sonaten - also known as Mystery Sonatas, are very well-known and the number of recordings is still growing. As the manuscript's title page is missing we don't quite know how Biber called these sonatas. There is also much debate about why exactly he wrote them and how they were meant to be performed. In particular the five sonatas for Passiontide are dramatic in their very own way. Scholars have tried to find out whether Biber illustrated elements of the story of the Passion of Christ, but that seems not to be the case. There is at least one exception, though: the Sonata VII is about the scourging of Jesus, and this is clearly depicted in the violin part.

The sonatas are technically demanding, and one can only admire those violinists who are able to play them. Moreover, every sonata requires a different tuning of the violin, as Biber makes use of the so-called scordatura technique. That said, I was slightly disappointed about Mira Glodeanu's playing. The intonation was sometimes a little suspect, and I have heard more expressive performances. The depicting of Jesus' scourging was rather modest and Ms Glodeanu should have made more of that. I didn't quite like her tone which was a bit meagre in my ears and lacked the colours and the intensity which I have noticed in various recordings. It has to be said that she didn't receive many impulses from the basso continuo which was too restrained. The Sonata X received the most convincing performance.

In addition to Biber's sonatas and Rosenmüller's Lamentations Frédérick Haas played some keyboard pieces. He played them well enough, but as far as their content is concerned they had nothing to do with the Passion of Christ. I think that other pieces could have been chosen which are more clearly connected to the subject of this concert.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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