Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg

Biber: The Sacred Mysteries

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber was widely acknowledged as the outstanding violin virtuoso of his age, and his Rosary Sonatas (The Sacred Mysteries), his best-known works, are the most impressive testimony to his gifts as a performer and composer. The 15 sonatas are grouped into sections corresponding to the three mysteries of the Rosary (The Joyful Mysteries, The Sorrowful Mysteries, and The Glorious Mysteries) of five sonatas each scored for violin and continuo, and the set concludes with a passacaglia titled "The Glorious Angel," for solo violin. For all but the first and last movements, Biber uses scordatura, the re-tuning of strings of the violin to alter the tone color and to open up possibilities for playing chords that would be awkward or impossible with standard tuning. The re-tuned violin has broadly expanded harmonic capabilities, and multiple stops can be used with freedom and regularity, often creating the effect of more than one instrument playing, so its part is unusually rich and textured.

Leah Gale Nelson delivers a robust, securely grounded performance of the sonatas, playing with a clean but vibrant tone. Her approach highlights the earthy vitality of the stories depicted in the music rather than an airy ethereality, and the effect is bracing. She brings plenty of nuance to each of the pieces and persuasively heightens the intense emotionality of the religious devotion that the movements are intended to inspire, so "The Finding of Jesus in the Temple" is exuberantly celebratory, for example, and "The Agony in the Garden" is darkly wrenching. Biber's daunting technical demands sound effortless in her confident, shapely playing. The elegant realization of the continuo adds to the attractiveness of this version. The cycle has been recorded using a variety of configurations, some including a full ensemble, to play the continuo part, but Nelson's approach is relatively simple, with theorbo played by Daniel Swenberg and organ played by Dongsok Shin. The sustained tones of the organ and the plucked theorbo provide timbral variety and appropriately leave ample room for the solo violin to shine. Motomi Igarashi playing violone makes a colorful and resonant addition in one of the sonatas, "The Ascension." Lyrichord's sound is full, warmly intimate, and ideally resonant.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Sacred Mystery Sonatas
1 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:27 Amazon
2 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 03:38 Amazon
3 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:37 Amazon
4 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:24 Amazon
5 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 00:55 Amazon
6 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:21 Amazon
7 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:54 Amazon
8 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:09 Amazon
9 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 07:45 Amazon
10 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:09 Amazon
11 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:34 Amazon
12 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:22 Amazon
13 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 03:28 Amazon
14 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 03:19 Amazon
15 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:13 Amazon
16 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:49 Amazon
17 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 03:38 Amazon
18 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 04:47 Amazon
19 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:22 Amazon
20 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 04:31 Amazon
21 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:12 Amazon
22 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 03:26 Amazon
23 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:45 Amazon
24 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:21 Amazon
25 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 08:36 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Sacred Mystery Sonatas
1 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:31 Amazon
2 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 03:42 Amazon
3 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:21 Amazon
4 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 00:40 Amazon
5 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:38 Amazon
6 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:09 Amazon
7 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:57 Amazon
8 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 03:03 Amazon
9 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:20 Amazon
10 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:47 Amazon
11 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:31 Amazon
12 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:23 Amazon
13 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 07:09 Amazon
14 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:43 Amazon
15 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 06:03 Amazon
16 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 01:53 Amazon
17 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 02:45 Amazon
18 Leah Nelson / Dongsok Shin / Daniel Swenberg 07:54 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick