Boston Baroque - Biber: The Mystery Sonatas - BBC Radio 3 'Record Review'

Here’s another new recording of a baroque masterpiece for violin: Biber’s Mystery Sonatas. Fifteen depictions of the history of the rosary, scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, encompassing some extraordinary technical challenges for the violinist, not the least of which Biber’s adventurous use of scordatura - non-standard tunings allowing the violinist to play otherwise impossible chords and changing the resonance of the instrument from piece to piece – sometimes more brilliant sometimes darker and more resonant. Well, this new recording is from Canadian violinist Christina Day Martinson concert master of Boston Baroque. Let’s listen to Biber’s fourteenth Sonata depicting the assumption of the Virgin in which Martinson and her colleagues revel in the almost folk like violin writing and as you’re about to hear she bows the open strings before each sonata so that you can clearly hear the scordatura tuning that Biber demanded.

...the brand new recording from Christina Day Martinson with her colleagues in Boston Baroque, directed from the keyboard by Martin Pearlman. It’s a highly enjoyable traversal of Biber’s fifteen extraordinary sonatas and the solo passacaglia that ends the set. Martinson seems to have used at least four violins across the recording to keep the intonation relatively stable after adopting Biber’s scordatura retunings. I don’t think I’ve heard a performance that so clearly shows the difference it makes to the sounds of the instrument and therefore the timbre of each sonata and it’s all so well explained in the accompanying notes. Martinson captures the mood of each one effectively, helped by the intimate recording. I’d still turn to Monica Huggett or Rachel Podger for an extra sense of fantasy and meditative freedom but this is a lovely account of Biber’s Mystery Sonatas – you’ll find it on two CDs from Linn Records.

BBC Radio 3 'Record Review'
05 May 2018