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Biber: Violin Sonatas [CD]

Andrew Manze Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: £12.64 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Frequently Bought Together

Biber: Violin Sonatas + Biber: The Mystery Sonatas /Holloway · Moroney · Tragicomedia + Biber: Missa Salisburgensis /Musica Antiqua Köln · Gabrieli Consort & Players · McCreesh
Price For All Three: £32.01

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Product details

  • Composer: H. I. F. Von Biber
  • Audio CD (11 Aug 2003)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Harmonia Mundi
  • ASIN: B0000665Z8
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 87,548 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Disc: 1
1. (Praeludium)/Presto
2. Variatio/Finale
3. (Praeludium)/Aria e Variatio/Finale
4. (Praeludium)/Aria e Variatio
5. Variatio
6. (Sonata)/Gigue
7. Adagio/Aria e Variatio/Finale
8. Passacaglia for solo lute
9. Allegro
10. Nachtigal (Nightingale)
See all 17 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. (Praeludium)
2. Variatio/Presto
3. Aria e Variatio
4. (Sonata)/Passacagli
5. (Sonata)/Gavotte/(Finale)
6. (Sonata)/Aria
7. Adagio/Ciacona
8. (Sonata)/Aria/Sarabanda
9. Allegro/(Gigue)
10. La Pastorella
See all 11 tracks on this disc

Product Description

BBC Review

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. --Claire Rogers

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! That's it. Just "Wow!" 3 May 2004
Format:Audio CD
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber-let's agree among friends to simply call him Biber for short-was an Austrian (by way of Moravia) contemporary of Bach, Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi. Alleged to be the greatest violinist of his time, he rose in rank to become court composer to the Salzburg Cathedral, and clearly represented the high point of the Austrian Baroque. His ceremonial music-especially his Missa Salisburgensis and Missa Bruxellensis-was perhaps the match, in sonic splendor, of Handel's famous Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music, but nonetheless distinctive enough that one would never confuse the two composers.
I must say that Biber is fast becoming a guilty pleasure of mine, and quite by accident. It was largely through the dropping of some "this is what I'm listening to" hints by a friend of mine that I thought I'd give him a try, starting first with the two masses noted above. These masses do require some more of my listening time before I feel comfortable in commenting on them. But I have no such problem with this remarkable collection of his 1681 Violin Sonatas.
I suppose I should have started with his more famous "Mystery" or "Rosary" Sonatas, but I must say that I am so taken in by the performance by Andrew Manze and his HIP (historically-informed performance) Romanesca group (with Nigel North on lute and theorbo and John Toll on harpsichord and organ) in these 1681 Sonatas that I think I'll simply wait until Manze and Romanseca have their own release of the Mystery Sonatas. Yes, this double-CD recording is that good!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Mr. Ian A. Macfarlane TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
I endorse everything the previous two reviewers have said. This is extraordinary music - the first Biber I ever heard - and Andrew Manze, Nigel North and John Toll give the most marvellous performances. Whether it's the ethereal beauty of the slower movements in the Sonatas or the vigour and drama of the faster passages, the astonishing strength and strangeness of the great ten-minute Passacaglia (built on a 4-note minor descending scale) or the violin's attempts to be a hen, a cat, a cuckoo or (quaintly) a musketeer in the Sonata Representativa, every moment on these two discs is riveting. They are famous ; they have won awards ; when you hear them that's no surprise!
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audio CD
Andrew Manze seems to have a "tough love" attitude toward his violins, which is perhaps surprising, since the ones used here are 220 and 340 years old: "Give them a break, Andrew, they're getting on a bit!" one wants to cry. However, the recording does not come to a heart-rending, unexpected halt to the sound of twanging springs and splintering wood. Which is fortunate indeed, as this record contains music of the most spectacular vigour, beauty and originality. And the wicked treatment of the violin was all part of the composer's style of composition (and playing, apparently). The accompaniment by the other members of romanesca is equal to the marvels of Manze's playing, and again, the original instruments give a dangerous edge to much of the playing.
There seems to be a slight backlash growing against Biber's work because it is "fashionable". Churlish elitism like that is what scares people away from classical music, and the culprits should be punished by being forced to listen only to suitably - and justifiably - obscure works by composers known only to musicologists. Biber's work for the violin is glorious, and it can only do interest in and demand for baroque and other music good if the number of people who know and love this music increases.
This is a fantastic disc and will surely please anybody who likes baroque music.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audio CD
and Manze, North and Toll provide performances to match. Jonathan Freedman-Attwood (reviewing for Gramophone) went so far as to put this CD "amongst the finest baroque chamber music to have appeared in recent years" and on playing it through I have to agree. This is a glorious bargain. As somebody mentioned in a review on amazon.com, the price might be "budget" but the presentation definitely isn't.

If you haven't tried Biber yet, don't be put off by descriptions like mine. There isn't any doubt that the music is Baroque, but it's nothing like Bach, Vivaldi or any other Baroque composer. If you find yourself taking to it, then do try another perhaps equally bizarre Baroque composer for the violin: Veracini. So far I have only his Sonate Accademiche in a three-disc set from the Locatelli Trio (violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch, 'cellist Richard Tunnicliffe and harpsichordist Malcolm Proud). Veracini clearly knew his own worth; he is reputed to have said, "There is only one God; there is only one Veracini". The Locatelli performances can be found at

[...]
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
68 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! That's it. Just "Wow!" 3 May 2004
By Bob Zeidler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber-let's agree among friends to simply call him Biber for short-was an Austrian (by way of Moravia) contemporary of Bach, Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi. Alleged to be the greatest violinist of his time, he rose in rank to become court composer to the Salzburg Cathedral, and clearly represented the high point of the Austrian Baroque. His ceremonial music-especially his Missa Salisburgensis and Missa Bruxellensis-was perhaps the match, in sonic splendor, of Handel's famous Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music, but nonetheless distinctive enough that one would never confuse the two composers.

I must say that Biber is fast becoming a guilty pleasure of mine, and quite by accident. It was largely through the dropping of some "this is what I'm listening to" hints by a friend of mine that I thought I'd give him a try, starting first with the two masses noted above. These masses do require some more of my listening time before I feel comfortable in commenting on them. But I have no such problem with this remarkable collection of his 1681 Violin Sonatas.

I suppose I should have started with his more famous "Mystery" or "Rosary" Sonatas, but I must say that I am so taken in by the performance by Andrew Manze and his HIP (historically-informed performance) Romanesca group (with Nigel North on lute and therebo and John Toll on harpsichord and organ) in these 1681 Sonatas that I think I'll simply wait until Manze and Romanseca have their own release of the Mystery Sonatas. Yes, this double-CD recording is that good!

Biber's sonata style would never be confused with Bach's for this instrument (his famous Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin being the obvious example), largely due to the latter's much more highly developed contrapuntal style (and the voice leading that can be the benefit of well-written counterpoint). Biber's style is altogether much freer in form, almost (well, perhaps actually) improvisatory by comparison. An obvious advantage-one that speaks to what must have been prodigious playing abilities by Biber-is that these works are thrilling; utter flights of fancy as compared to his more cerebral counterpart from Leipzig. The "free form," as it were, with its near-absence of conventional voice-leading, provides "a surprise at every turn." And there are many of them throughout the eight numbered sonatas and three additional works.

One might say, with justification, that Biber was the Paganini of his day (style differences of Baroque vs. Romantic notwithstanding). Moreover, Biber was an early exponent of a trick that Paganini used a century and a half later: "scordatura" or retuning of the instrument for special tone-color effects due to emphasizing different harmonic overtones in the retuning. To say that scordatura results in some phenomenal violinistic effects would be an understatement.

Andrew Manze and his partners play these works to the hilt, with sheer brilliance in both tone and technique, the latter simply staggering in many spots. Those of you who might think that a true Baroque violin is an acoustically "dead" or dull instrument in comparison to a modern instrument are in for quite a surprise if you've never heard Manze perform. Put simply, these two CDs have well over two hours of some of the finest fiddling I've ever heard. (And yes, "fiddling" is not all that far off the mark, given the free improvisation and high degree of ornamentation that was typical of Biber.)

Cerebral vs. passionate? A fair comparison between Bach and Biber. I'll always have my days when only the Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin will fill the bill; the days when I want my mind to be fully engaged in the music. And, now, with this Biber discovery, I'll also have my days when I want something quite different; something quite extraordinary in a different way than Bach provides. Let's agree to call them "days when I want the violinist to wail!" And Andrew Manze is the violinist to do it. Now, about those Mystery Sonatas...

A final note: Not all that long ago, these two CDs were a full-priced Harmonia Mundi item. Now rather recently released in Harmonia Mundi's "1 + 1" budget line, but with no cost-cutting whatsoever on production values (full booklet included), this Biber album is a bargain.

Bob Zeidler
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like nothing I have ever heard! 30 Jan 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
What do you hope for when you try out a CD by a composer you've never heard before? I read a review of this Biber CD that intrigued me, and I thought I'd give it a try, as a change of pace from the many Bach, Vivaldi and other Baroque CDs I have. I had a preconception that this CD would sound pretty much like Vivaldi, which is a good thing, and it would be nice to have. What I got instead was the most pleasant and astonishing surprise I've gotten in quite a while. This music is not like anything else I have ever heard! It has a sweeping unfettered style that is delightfully unpredictable, and it presents a tonal soundscape that I have simply never heard before. The music is in turns joyful, mysterious, and deeply poignant. If you're looking for something new, and you think you've heard it all, you should try this CD. Unless you have already heard Biber done well, you have truely never heard anything like this, and you will be very happy you got this CD! Also check out Holloway on this same music - equally amazing.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars astonishingly beautiful 21 Jan 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
this is some of the most spiritually uplifting, astonishingly beautiful music ever. it literally takes you to a place of great ravishment and joy.
recording, perfomers, selection and above all the composer are sheer perfection.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Austria's contribution to 17th-century violin virtuosity 19 Oct 2005
By Alan Lekan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Let's first give credit to the Austrian composer, HIF von Biber, for his most skillful, innovative and often-daring compositions here. Along with fellow-Austian Schmelzer's sonatas, these sonatas are musically-intriguing works and a marvelous contribution to the 17th-century virtuoso tradition that migrated north from Italy. Many of the sonatas are in the form of aria and variations. It is music worthy of deep exploration and appreciation. We are thankful for artists like Manze to help bring them to modern light.

Such difficult, fantasy-like compositions are the playground for only the most accomplished violinists such as Andrew Manze, who fully rises to the occasion here. Manze is famous for tackling such quirky and flamboyant 17th-century violin music with a most unique style and precision unlike any other performer. The highly-dramatic and gypsy-spirited fiddling that has made him famous is in full force in these Biber Sonatas - and nowhere more dramatic than in the most unusual "Sonata Representativa." This sonata grouping is as wild and unpredictable as they come and contains one short (1:06) but jaw-dropping virtuoso piece called the "Musketeer's March." Against a marvelously-performed and boldly-percussive continuo, Manze's powerful effects show us why he rules in this kind of music. It is extraordinary to hear - rhthymically-frenzied, fantastic and frenetic. Between the relentless rhythmic drive of North and Toll and Manze's astonishing, 'chromatic' slurrs and soaring riffs, this movement is one rightful reason for the "Manze craze."

The highlight of Mr. Manze's playing here (and in general) is most certainly his technical wizardry - throwing off effortless runs of demisemiquavers with great precision and rhythmic intensity. Less of a highlight for some will be his ability to make the violin sing aria-like melodies when the notes cool off to mere crotchets and semibreves. The tone he exudes is more direct and starker as compared to the "sweet" tone and singing voice that his fellow period-violinists are better known for (Podger, Biondi). Penguin Guide rightly calls his style "authentic period fiddling" and notes it will not be to the taste of everyone. So, it is a really a matter of what sounds good to your ears, and most people seem to like Manze's overall style thoughout the entire program. Some will resonate more with John Holloway, I tend to prefer Goebel's more melodic and silky violin sound on DG for these same works. Regardless of performer and preference, this extraordinary music is more the main point.

Both Penguin and Gramophone Guides gave this CD high marks, including a top 1995 Baroque-Music Award from the latter. Additionally, veteran music-critic David Hurwitz of ClassicsToday gave this recording (and the Rosary Sonata set) a perfect 10/10 for Artistry/Sound Quality. Indeed, the sound quality is fantatic (clear, full, optimally resonant) as is the creative and passionate continuo support of John Toll and Nigel North. Also most recommended is Romanesca's recording of Schmelzer Sontatas for all of the same reasons above. Compositions - 5 stars; Performance - 4 stars; Sound Quality - 5 stars; The ugly and strange cover art of the dead bird - 1 star.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent but not my favourite 19 Nov 2005
By another reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
It's hard to decide what to write here.... This is an awesome recording, especially the Sonata Representativa, but I just don't like it as much as John Holloway's recording. That's the only thing wrong with it, Andrew Manze isn't John Holloway. I guess that isn't very helpful. It must be the organ/harpsichord combo on Holloway's recording that does it for me. The Sonata Representativa on this recording is easily the best I've ever heard though, no doubt about it. Very expressive & exciting. Romanesca is definitely to be commended for 'discovering' Biber; I'm sure much of the interest in Biber these days was initiated by this recording of Romanesca's.
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