Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber – Requiem, 2 Cantatas, Battalia
Max von Egmont, bass; Jacques Villisech, bass; Kurt Equilluz, tenor
Soloist of the Wiener Sängerknaben
Concentus Musicus Wien
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor
Warner Classics, 2008
This double disc set collects several works composed by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, a Bohemian violinist and composer employed at the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg and considered a first-rate musicians in his time, but now virtually forgotten. With this recording, Nikolaus Harnoncourt spreads the knowledge of this composer, offering some examples of his production, as the Requiem, written in 1692 for unknown reasons; the Battalia, probably composed for a pantomime of the Carnival 1673; the motet Laetatus Sum for two bass singers, violin, three violas and continuo and some other cantatas and sonatas. Among these, we find a Sonata St. Polycarpi that, together with the Sonata a 7, is one of the most important compositions for natural trumpets. Natural trumpets are extremely simple instruments, but this does not diminish the value of the sonatas, where the author has strived to produce on the listener a sense of excitement that lasts until the end. The dedication of the sonata to St. Polykarp is laudatory, because Polykarp was the name of a nephew of the archbishop of Salzburg, who was elected provost in 1673. This may be also the reason of the composition.
No one better than Harnoncourt could revive Biber’s compositions. The conductor leads the Concentus Musicus Wien, which he founded in 1953, realizing a sumptuous performance, where the sadder and the brightest sides of Biber’s music, summarized by the Requiem and the Sonata St. Polykarpi respectively, are attentively stressed. The result is not that we just obtain a general idea about the composer and his style, as may happen with poor execution, but we will have a starting point to reflect seriously about his intent and his music. The interpretive sensitivity of Nikolaus Harnoncourt is rapidly felt and assimilated by others and this is his greatest achievement and legacy.