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Biber Violin Sonatas Review

BBC Review

Andrew Manze is surely the most talented baroque violinist around today, and in his...

Claire Rogers 2002

If you love everything that's weird and wonderful about early violin music, these recordings are for you. Andrew Manze is surely the most knowledgeable and talented baroque violinist around today, and in his hands what he describes as Biber's "unpredictability" and constant musical inventiveness magically spring to life. It's a real meeting of minds.

Biber was something of a 17th century Paganini, a formidably talented and innovative violinist. He seems to have been even more highly valued as a composer in his day though, and it's thanks to the extraordinary music he wrote for the violin that we can build up a vivid picture of the heights to which he took the art of violin playing at that time.

The sad fact that much of Biber's music is still oddly overlooked makes this excellent 2-CD set by Romanesca a welcome treat, particularly as it features all eight of Biber's violin sonatas from 1681 recorded in their entirety for the first time. The notes, as well as the ideas, flow like water in these kaleidoscopic works, but also show that Biber was capable of music of great beauty and reflection as well as virtuosity.

For out and out eccentricity, though, the Sonata Representativa wins hands down, with its incredible creature impersonations (including an amazing violinistic impression of a cat meouwing) and a Musketeer's March which Manze and company capture with an abandoned mixture of Eastern exoticism and more than a hint of blue grass!

Manze rounds off this lovely recording with Biber's towering polyphonic Passacaglia for solo violin - a more serious note which seems a fitting tribute to the enduring musicianship of John Toll who died last summer. All in all, these CDs offer a wonderful trip around the world of Baroque music and ideas, in all their diversity, and are a real treasure.

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