The "battle of the composers" imagined by the title of this Finnish release is a bit fanciful; the idea is that a "rivalry in all probability existed between" Heinrich Biber and Georg Muffat "for the favor of their influential employer," the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg (there were three during the relevant period). Who can know whether this was true? Yet the concept leads Baroque violinist Petri Tapio Mattson, organist Markku Mäkinen, and archlutenist Eero Palviainen to an original program, one that combines the idiosyncratic virtuoso violin style of Biber not with other violin music as usual, but with Muffat's organ works. There is also one violin sonata by Muffat at the end that's wilder than any of the comparatively early Biber works. The combination may or may not be historically justifiable, for the violin was still at this point a distinct little corner of the musical universe. But combined with another novel feature of this album the program makes beautiful musical sense. Instead of the usual harpsichord or small organ continuo in the Biber and Muffat violin sonatas, the players use a full-scale church organ, believing that that was what was intended in the late 17th century, and that small organs were used only when a full-sized instrument was not available. Again, the precise functions of Biber's rather inward violin music remain unknown, but it sounds great with a rich continuo executed on a church organ, and the extreme quality of late 17th century German and Austrian music in general is illuminated in a dramatic way by this recording. Alba's hybrid SACD engineering (auditioned on a good conventional stereo), recorded in an unspecified location, supports the players admirably with resonant but not muddy sound.
A Virtuoso Faceoff
Markku Mäkinen / Petri Tapio Mattson / Eero Palviainen
A Virtuoso Faceoff Review
by James Manheim