Anton Steck / Hille Perl / Christian Rieger / Lee Santana

Biber: Violin Sonatas from the Kremsier Archive

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This plunge into the steady stream of Biber releases comes from violinist Anton Steck, an alumnus of the Musica Antiqua Köln period-instrument group. Austria's Heinrich Ignaz von Biber was a brilliant, iconoclastic violinist and composer of the late seventeenth century, hardly known 25 years ago but now the recipient of attention from violinists and casual listeners alike. His Mystery Sonatas collectively depict the Passion story through the unique device of scordatura, or retuning of the violin, which forces the instrument into strange, unearthly textures and moods. The violin sonatas on this disc, from the year 1681, are less conceptual in nature, but anyone who has heard and liked the Mystery Sonatas or any other music of Biber will find familiar territory here. The music is fearsomely difficult to play, uses scordatura, and forges structural details out of the sounds of a stretched-to-the-breaking-point violin (and violinist) in an extremely compelling way. The Sonata in D of Georg Muffat is a virtuoso German work of the same period, lacking the extreme qualities of the Biber but instructive by contrast. Steck's readings are technically unimpeachable, and his feel for the role violin textures play in Biber's music is enough to recommend this disc. The hard-edged quality of his playing, typical of the Musica Antiqua Köln style, is amplified by the heavy, three-player continuo group of keyboardist (harpsichord and organ) Christian Rieger, gambist Hille Perl, and archlute and chittarone player; the resulting surfaces, shiny and sparkling, fit Biber well. This is a strong Biber release of interest to any Baroque enthusiast or lover of virtuoso violin music. Note to liner-note writers: even if you dislike American foreign policy, calling Florida (Santana's home) a "North American federal state" is not going to strike a blow for anything at all.

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