Cantus Cölln

Biber: Litaniæ Sancto Josepho; Muffat: Missa in labore requies

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Harmonia Mundi's Biber: Litaniae de Sancto Josepho featuring Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino under Konrad Junghänel is one of the finest recordings ever made of Salzburgian Baroque sacred choral music. Recorded in Melk Abbey in Austria, these combined period instrument groups pack a real wallop inside the Melk Abbey's cavernous interiors, and the music -- with its constant changes of mood and extremes of range in volume -- is breathlessly exciting. Crediting the disc to Biber overall is a little misleading, as only about 21 minutes of the 70-minute disc are his; the main work is Georg Muffat's enormous Missa in labore requies and it dominates the proceedings. But no one will be disappointed, as anyone familiar with the elephantine scale of Biber's sacred music will easily note that this Muffat is cut of the same cloth; it just carries a different designer name. The long mass is intersected by sonatas by Antonio Bertali and Biber, and this helps for the listener to take a breath from the sheer grandioseness of these proceedings, whereas Johann Sebastian Bach's slightly later sacred music exemplifies unanimity of purpose, order, and balance, and it seems like the composers of Biber and Muffat's school wanted to keep listeners on the edge of his/her seat, and there are a couple spots here that will make you jump out of it. For a big, bold, over-the-top experience in seventeenth century sacred choral music, there aren't a lot of recordings that can beat this, therefore Harmonia Mundi's Biber: Litaniae de Sancto Josepho is recommended with enthusiasm. This 1996 disc was re-released in 2007 in Harmonia Mundi's less expensive Musique d'abord series; however, it is a bargain at any price.

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