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CD Review

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber

Virtuoso in the Making: Early Chamber Music

  • Pastorella
  • Sonatas in E Major, C minor & A Major
  • Trio Sonata (2 violins & trombone)
  • Fantasia
  • Passacaglia (lute solo)
  • Pastorella for 2 violins
Kati Debbretezni & Penelope Spencer, baroque violin
Alison McGillivray, viola da gamba & violone
Robert Howarth, harpsichord & chest organ
Matthew Wadsworth, theorbo & lute
Adam Woolf, trombone
Recorded at National Centre for Early Music, York, England, February 2002
Plus multi-media editorial note and printable scores.
Linn CKD195 68 mins
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Ricordo was formed in 1997 and has concentrated on the 17th Century Stylus Phantasticus. Heinrich Biber is now well recognised and represented on CD, but this collection focuses on his formative years, when he was probably taught by Schmelzer, whose Pastorella theme was shamelessly borrowed by Biber (both versions are included) and maybe by Bertali, who might have written one of the works here (attribution involves detective work and uncertainty).

Biber is famed for his extravagant and quirky violinistic virtuosity, to which these players are fully equal. The E Major sonata is recognised by Concordo as immature when compared with that in A Major, 'fanciful, unexpected, colourful – Biber at his best'.

The programme is well varied and the trio sonata with trombone (a copy of a mid-17 C. instrument) is especially felicitous; baroque trombone and violin blend effortlessly.

The early music scene is a lively one, commanding increasingly wide interest and support, and achieving large audiences. It is worth mentioning that at the launch concert for this CD, the group sounded even better, if that were possible, at London's Wigmore Hall, where they were also joined by cornett virtuoso Fiona Russell; it is astonishing how well cornett & sackbut go with baroque strings as equals.

It is particularly illuminating to follow this music on the computer (or by printing out the scores first) because the particular joy of music of this period is how it frees the imagination to embellish and improvise upon the bare scores that have come down, something taken for granted at the time of composition, and something that appeals to some of the new breed of young musicians, who not infrequently are involved also in completely different kinds of musics, including jazz, which requires closely similar improvisation skills, as Adam Woolf (no relation) explained to me.

A splendid debut CD, well researched and documented, impeccably recorded & good value with the CD-ROM extras a real bonus.

Copyright © 2002, Peter Grahame Woolf