Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber: Battalia; Pauern Kirchfahrt; Ballettae; Sonatae

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This CD is a wonderful selection of shorter works by the composer, including two of his radical programmatic pieces, played with skillful zest or, where appropriate, contained emotion by the Concentius Musicus Wien directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Originally written for the virtuoso orchestra of the Bishop of Olomouc, the performances here are based on the original, unrevised manuscripts. The collection opens with the "Sonata II a 5 Violae", one of the two included five-part string sonatas, accompanied by a continuo with bass and harpsichord in a lively Allegro, which alternates with brief Adagio interludes, and seques eventually into a skipping triple meter Presto tempo and an Adagio coda. The next selection is the "Sonata prima a 8, 2 Clarini, 6 Violae", one of the two included eight-part sonatas with 2 trumpets, and this is followed by the wonderful collection of dances known as the "Ballettae a 4 Violettae, Nos. 1-7". The remarkable programmatic piece "Battalia" (1673) contains radical effects, such as a drunken section where the revelers play 8 different tunes in 8 different keys simultaneously (!), paper is inserted in the violin strings to imitate drumming, and the strings are hit with the wood of the bow (col legno battuta). The "Sonata à 7, 6 Tromb, Tramburin con Organo" (1668) divides the trumpets into unusual pairings and features their highest ranges. The concluding programmatic piece is the "Sonata à 6 die Pauern Kirchfahrt genandt" ("known as the Peasants Procession to Church") depicting the people (young and older in differing tempi) gradually assembling, and a chant in humble unison and parallel octaves, fading as the worshipers enter the church. A chorale begins the service. A happy, lively dance indicates the peasants have moved to the village tavern. A courtly dance concludes the evening's celebration.