Biber: Rosenkranzsonaten 2 & 3
Anne Schumann (violin), Sebastian Knebel (organ)
Querstand VKJK 1506/1507. 45’10/63’09
CD 2. Biber: Rosenkranzsonaten VI-X; Pachelbel: Ciacona in d
CD 3. Biber: Rosenkranzsonaten XI-XVI; Buxtehude: Ciacona in e
These two CDs complete the 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. This is a commendable approach; not least because it avoids the ubiquitous little box organs and features full sized church organs. These were far more likely to be used as a continuo instruments at the time, and create a different aural perspective to the music. The first CD was reviewed here.
CD 2, the ‘Sorrowful Mysteries’ (Sonatas VI-X), are recorded in Kaltenlengsfeld, next door to Friedelshausen, where CD 1 was recorded, south of the Bach town of Eisenach in Thuringia. The organ dates from 1755 and has, for Thuringian organs, a rather unusual configuration with a Ruckpositive. It is positioned above the altar in what appears to be almost a separate space from the main church volume, beyond a low arch and in a small space – presumably this explains the configuration, which takes up less vertical space. The recording is made fairly close to the organ, but still includes the acoustic bloom from the rest of the space. The violin is played from the organ gallery. The violin playing is sensitive, although occasionally the tone becomes a bit strident, for example, at the end of tracks 6 and 8. This might reflect the mood of the piece, but has a deleterious effect on the intonation. The extended Aria & Variations at the end of the concluding Sonata X are played with a delightful sense of space and delicacy. Unfortunately, the following final organ piece, Pachelbel’s Ciacona in d, comes crashing in on full organ. Although the sound levels have been clearly turned down, I would have much preferred it to have been played on a much quieter registration. It is one of those pieces that can work well loud or soft and, after the mood of the sorrowful Sonatas, a more reflective reading would have been more appropriate. The organ playing is also rather bombastic, and the registration squeezes more out the comparatively small organ than is appropriate.
As with the first volume of this series, CD 2 is very short, with just 45 minutes of music. Although the idea of dividing the work into its three sections makes sense, it doesn’t really result in value for money. Bearing in mind the focus on the sound of the organ in these recordings I would have included more organ pieces, either inserted between the Biber Sonatas, or at the end. CD3 is a more sensible 63 minutes.
CD 3, the ‘Glorious Mysteries’ (Sonatas XI-XVI), was recorded in Waltershausen, west of Eisenach, on the Trost organ in the Zur Gotteshilfe church. This is a substantial 3-manual instrument that had a troublesome birth, taking many years to complete. The organ’s presence is felt at the start of track 5, with the fanfares that start the Ascension Sonata XII. But otherwise it is used sparingly. Indeed, it is often those passages where the violin is accompanied by a single organ bass note that are the most effective. The violin playing on CD2 is more sensitive, with little of the tonal edginess of CD2. The concluding Passacaglia (SonataXVI) is superb. But again the final solo organ piece comes as a bit of a shock. It is recorded at a higher volume and what seems to be a closer microphone position, although it does use more restrained registrations that on CD 2.
A couple of minor points on both CDs – the English translations are slightly quirky, and the tracks are listed in the notes as 1-5, but the covers have the correct Sonata numbering of VI-X and XI-XVI. This means that you have to switch back and forth to check which track you are listening to. Although there might be practically issues in using three organs for the series all within a few miles of each other in Thuringia, the organs themselves are rather different from the organs that Biber would have experienced in Salzburg and Bohemia. And Buxtehude came from another, completely different organ culture in North Germany.