Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber
Missa Christi resurgentis
The New York Collegium
Andrew Parrott, conductor
Kleos Classics, 2005
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s name is remembered in music history mostly for his fame as violinist virtuoso and sometimes it happens to forget that he wrote many vocal and instrumental works when he was in Salzburg, serving Price-Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph von Khuenberg. His employment dates from 1670 to the end of his life (1704) and was a successful one, since he became vice-Kapellmeister in 1679 and Kapellmeister in 1684. In this period, he composed instrumental music for violin, eight Masses, two Requiems, music for Vespers and several other sacred and profane works. Many of them have been dedicated to the Archbishop.
Missa Christi resurgentis is one of Biber’s first works for Salzburg and was written in 1673-4, probably to be performed at the Cathedral for Easter 1674. The music written for the Cathedral usually takes into consideration the structure of the building and, as the pictures of the time show, the musicians were placed around the building making them dialoguing with one another. Thus, Missa Christi resurgentis requires an imposing display of forces: double choir and an additional bass with the addition of string and winds with two trumpets. The orchestra have a prominent part and various combinations of instruments play some duets, but the vocal part has some peculiarities too, such as the three basses that appear in some passages.
This album has been recorded the week after the concert of New York Collegium of the Missa Christi resurgentis in New York (April 2003), under the direction of Andrew Parrott, and is a world premiere recording. The performance, anyway, is not without defects and here they are more evident than in Biber’s other works because another Missa Christi resurgentis has been released shortly before this one (conducted by Andrew Manze), allowing the listener to make comparisons between the two. Both recording have their positive and negative aspects, but they can be considered good achievements, beyond their defects.
The purpose of Parrott’s recording is to recreate a church ceremony of the time, as it is clear from the chants, sonatas and toccatas inserted into the Mass, but this creates an inconvenience that I will soon explain and that is connected with the choice of times. The choice of times is not always appropriate and it happens that time does not differ from one piece to another, creating a certain monotony and making the music sound a rather “static”, effect which has its extension in the liturgical chant. Of course, in this execution there is still room for solemnity and religious feelings, but with the exception of the Introitus, with its animated and joyous spirit, there is little opportunity here to express anything that, rather than faith in God, does not resemble self-congratulation. This is a pity – and, to make the matters worse, the chorus is not impeccable. The major defect of the choir are the trebles, who replace the female voices and betray some difficulty in singing the highest notes, but in the other voices the effort to give some mysticism and sweetness is clear, especially in the marvellous Agnus Dei.
The orchestra, on the other hand, is really fine. Its sound is brilliant and clear and can be appreciated in particular in the sonatas and toccatas (their music has been composed by Stadlmayr, Kerll and Poglietti, together with Biber himself). A really nice piece is the Mystery Sonata at the end of the album, because it is an amused dialogue between the instruments. If a reason to listen to this Missa Christi resurgentis exists, it is exactly this.