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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sprezzatura in musica, April 28, 2003
By 
Michael S. Swisher (Stillwater, Minnesota USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen (Audio CD)
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibern - to give him his correct name and style - was one of the most virtuosic and also most idiosyncratic composers of the Baroque period. Although he wrote masses, motets, and opera, he is especially noted for his works for violin, and was remembered decades after his death as a great executant, much as we today remember Paganini.
This recording is of some of the earlier Biber sonatas for solo violin, less well known than the Rosary Sonatas or his later collection, Fidicinium sacro-profanum. In addition to four published in 1681, two previously unpublished sonatas (Nos. 81 and 84) are included, and the last (band 6) on this recording is the only performance on record of No. 84 of which I am aware. It alone is worth the purchase of the album, even if one already has another recording of some of the other pieces on it.
"Baroque" is a characterisation of music of this period that damns with faint praise, being derived from a Spanish word for an imperfect pearl. It would be better to speak of the style - especially in Biber's case - as a musical version of mannerism. Biber combines, as did the mannerist painters, a highly formal character with exaggerations and violent contrasts, all delivered in what seems to be an effortless flow of song. The appearance of naturalness and ease in doing what is in fact dauntingly difficult was esteemed during this period as the paramount virtue of an artist - or of a gentleman. The Italians called it "sprezzatura." Biber has it, as did his fellow Salzburger, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (who knew and quoted Biber's work).
Listening to this music at one moment you may be reminded of a country fiddle tune, next of "Zigeunerweisen," and after that, all the pomp of a seventeenth-century court. Finally a simple heartfelt melody breaks through. In the few short minutes that each of these sonatas last, Biber communicates a density of information that one can't find in some later composers' symphonies of far more elaborate instrumentation and much greater length.
Holloway's performance of these pieces is polished without losing the freshness of spirit they properly convey. The liner notes say that the artist plans to record a second disc with more of the 1681 sonatas. Based on this one, it should be well worth having.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 stars... one of my all-time favourite cds of any kind of music, along with part 2, November 19, 2005
This review is from: Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen (Audio CD)
Yes Manze/Romanesca does an excellent recording & did a lot to put Biber 'on the map' but I just "like this one better." (esp sonata IV!!!) Holloway's recordings are the only ones that have both organ and harpsichord playing in the background & I really like the effect. Usually there's only one or the other. As another reviewer said, it's hard to notice that this is very hard music to play. I wouldn't say it has anything to do with the skill of the musicians, but the harpsichord & organ workng together makes the cd more atmospheric for some reason. These discs (this one + Der Turken Anmarsch) don't have the Sonata Representativa on them like Romanesca's do, but then they have unpublished works by Biber. So the only way to hear everything is to get both recordings, which isn't a bad idea anyway so then you can compare the two interpretations. Generally speaking I would say this cd is good for the evening/nighttime & Romanesca's is for morning/daytime. That's what I think of anyway.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the one Biber., June 19, 2004
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This review is from: Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen (Audio CD)
Absolutely intoxicating: I listened to many of the Manze recordings of baroque violin as well as other highly rated performances in this genre but find myself coming back again and again to this CD. If you can only buy one Biber, this is the one!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A violin wandering and exploring.., July 1, 2008
This review is from: Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen (Audio CD)
This is the most played of my Biber recordings - it just sounds so effortless and relaxed.

If you didn't know the music you might think that a virtuoso fiddler had prearranged a few chord changes with his organist and harpsichordist and had then set out whimsically weaving some tunes and variations straight out of his head, but in fact it is apparently pretty well scored.

I'm not sure if that sounds like a recommendation or not, but the disc is vibrant and catchy, very easy to enjoy and not like most baroque violin sonatas (Biber is after all... Biber. And Holloway has a touch that is perfect to the task.)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holloway All the Way, June 1, 2009
By 
M. De Sapio (Alexandria, VA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen (Audio CD)
John Holloway's ongoing series of recordings for ECM has established him as one of the finest baroque violinists alive. Other reviewers have described their reactions to these stupefying sonatas of Biber, music that reconciles dazzling virtuosity, structural subtlety, and ecstatic emotional abandon. For my part I want to try to convey some of what makes John Holloway's violin playing so special. Every baroque violinist should envy the phenomenal resonance, purity, and richness of Holloway's tone; he knows how to make his violin really SING, not just dance. Holloway phrases eloquently, using rubato and agogic accents (emphatic lingering over certain notes) to telling effect. He handles the fast toccata-like passagework magnificently: the continuous thirty-second notes bubble forth with utter spontaneity yet also a sharply etched quality. When it comes to ornamentation, Holloway may come off as less spontaneous than other performers, but his ornaments are always beautifully natural and apt. Finally, in choosing a sumptuous continuo tapestry of organ and harpsichord (both players fleshing out the music to its full potential), Holloway has almost created a new kind of chamber music.

Comparisons with Andrew Manze's Biber set are inevitable. Manze is another musician whom I like and respect, but with Holloway this music seems to acquire an extra dimension - a deeper emotional involvement, perhaps. To my knowledge, it has not been mentioned that some of the difference in feel between the two versions may be accounted for by the different pitch used in each recording (A=440 with Manze, a mellow A=415 with Holloway).

On a final note, there are probably a great many people wondering what "unam ceylum" means. It is a phrase that appears (in a slightly different form) in Biber's Latin dedication to his book of sonatas, and it means "one lyre".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phantasmagorical!, November 26, 2007
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen (Audio CD)
There's little I can add to the four previous rapturous reviews except my personal endorsement. This is, I think, John Holloway's best performance of Biber's violin sonatas, the performance that best matches his tone and phrasing to the eccentricity of the music. His recording of the Rosary Sonatas is no better than third to my taste, well behind Goebel and Huggett. But these sonatas are quite different in character from the Rosaries, more robust and less 'spiritual', more exploratory of the limits of the scordatura violin, more quickly-changing in mood and caprice... more fun if you will.

A disagreement exists about the authenticity of Holloway's choice of continuo. He uses organ and harpsichord together. Musicologists might argue that organ and lute or archlute would be more historically justified. My ears, nevertheless, find the organ/harpsichord continuo very convincing, especially since the harpsichordist realizes his part at times in marvelously tasteful imitation of an archlute.

Once you hear any of Biber's virtuoso works for violin, I can't imagine that you'll be satisfied with one disk. You'll want this, plus the Monica Huggett Rosary Sonatas (2 CDs), plus the Sonata for two Violas d'amore on the CD "Viola d'Amore" by Affetti Musicali....

Read no further, lest you overdraw your credit card!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A World of Melody & Colour, January 25, 2011
This review is from: Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen (Audio CD)
Biber, to my mind at least, is a hidden treasure. This lovely album, coupled with his Mystery Sonatas, comprises some of the loveliest violin sonatas I've ever discovered. Bach, Albinoni and Vivaldi all come to mind, in the sense that there is real joyful invention in the music, played superbly by Holloway, a great advocate for Biber,and with real delight in the music making. This is a disc of real colour and range in the irresistible melody lines, and the combination of violin, with organ and harpsichord as continuo, provides a real warmth to the music making.
Biber is now well known for his 'scordatura', re-tuning of the strings to increase the range and complexity of the instrument, but this technical feat would be limited were it not coupled with blissfully expressive music, in which the violin can make little skipping dances one moment, then deliver a ghostly beauty the next. Performances and recording are outstanding here, and the colour and warmth of the melodies highly addictive. No lover of the violin, or exquisitely melodic music, should be without this, or Holloway's recording of the Mystery Sonatas Biber - The Mystery Sonatas Simply gorgeous music. A Gramophone 'Star' recommendation, and little wonder!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Comment on the title, April 17, 2014
By 
JT (Tumwater, WA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen (Audio CD)
The title could also be the more conventional Latin spelling Unum Caelum which google translator says means "one heaven". The reviews already posted give extensive musicological analyses, so no need for more of that is this comment. The popular broadcast radio show "Hearts of Space" devoted an entire episode to this album a few years ago.
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Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen
Biber: Unam Ceylum /Holloway * Assenbaum * Mortensen by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (Audio CD - 2002)
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