Andrew Manze & The English Concert, Biber: Missa Christi resurgentis

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Biber: Missa Christi resurgentis

Andrew Manze & The English Concert
Quasi-psychedelic 17th-century music via the mad professor of the English early music scene.

Heinrich Biber has become a hip name in violin circles; his sonatas are almost psychedelic in their approach to harmony, tuning and sound painting. Biber's other music is less familiar; in fact, this mass, probably written for a 1674 Easter celebration, was lost for over 300 years. The work's most striking feature may also be the reason for its lack of performances: it calls for a brass choir, two separate vocal choirs, and a string ensemble — each one to be placed in a different part of a church or cathedral. This sort of antiphonal music — think of it as an early attempt at stereo — wasn't uncommon in the great cathedrals of Europe but the demands of coordinating four different groups and keeping them in tune are considerable. Add to that the often unusual harmonic language that seems to be unique to Biber, and you have a musical white elephant. Fortunately, violinist and conductor Andrew Manze, the mad professor of the English early music scene, is up to the task.