Anne Schumann (violin), Sebastian Knebel (organ)
Querstand VKJK 1423. 40’24
Biber Rosenkranzsonaten I-V; Buxtehude: Passacaglia in d (BuxWV161)
For this 3-CD series of the Biber Rosenkranzsonaten, Anne Schumann and Sebastian Knebel have divided the work into its three sections (the ‘joyful’, ‘sorrowful’ and ‘glorious’ mysteries) and have chosen a different recording venue for each section, based on the organ in each church – a commendable approach, not least because we hear a full size church organ used as a continuo instrument, rather than the silly little box organs so often heard.
For their first CD, they use the 1699 organ in Friedelshausen (south of the Bach town of Eisenach in Thuringia). The builder is unknown, but the single manual, nine-stop organ reflects the distinctive organ type of southern German-speaking areas. We are welcomed to the church by the sound of the church bells that open the CD – a nice touch. The organ is positioned, in typical Thuringian style, directly above the altar, and the violin was played from the organ gallery. The balance between organ and violin is perfect, both being heard clearly and distinctly, something so often missing in pieces like this.
The choice of Buxtehude as a companion composer is an interesting one. Although he was geographically remote from Biber, and was used very different organs to those in Thuringia, he dwelt in the same sound world of the stylus phantasticus as Biber. So it is appropriate to end the CD with his well-known Passacaglia in d minor, not least in complimenting Biber’s own monumental Sonata IV, a single movement Ciacona. It starts slightly too loudly for my tastes, bearing in mind the volume of the previous Biber pieces, but is nonetheless a suitable reflective reading.
The playing is outstanding, beautifully matching the reflective nature of the five Sonatas, and with sensitive.
My only quibble with this CD is the extraordinarily short length of just 40 minutes. Dividing the work into its three sections make that inevitable, but it doesn’t really represent value for money. In that each Sonata demands a completely different (scordatura) tuning from the violin, it seems unlikely that they were intended to be performed one after the other without a break. On that assumption, I wonder if more Buxtehude pieces could have inserted between the Biber Sonatas, reflecting on the particular Biber Sonata just heard.