Partitas II & VII
Psalms 122 & 127
Sonatas VII & VIII
Meret Luthi Violin and Director
Jonathan Sells Bass
Lisandro Abadie Bass
Les Passions de l’Ame
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 19439763522
As an example of the triumph of content over packaging this album is prime. Forget the kitsch cover, the inaccurate name and the truly garish graphic design.
Once you turn it on, there is superb period instrument playing by this thoroughly serious and accomplished ensemble, based in Bern – the city itself these days an important hub for early music practice.
The two psalm settings by Heinrich Biber, each with solo bass, each ten minutes long, are not (despite the title) the most dominant music presented here, except in the sense that they give Meret Luthi a platform to match the voice with violin virtuosity. The joy in the selection is that it reflects the sheer excellence of the music being written in Germany a generation and more before Bach. Biber’s Shutzengel Passacaglia for solo violin is simply in the same exalted class as his, and is given a performance that does it full justice by Luthi.
The two bass singers are resonant and effective but this is really not their show. The string players have all the best lines, whether for violin, viola, viola d’amore, cello, violone, basse de violon, baroque guitar or theorbo. The continuo group even includes a psaltery and dulcimer. The textures are correspondingly rich and satisfying. It makes one realise how limited the string sections of modern orchestras have become. The period version has a far more sophisticated range of timbres.
I have now listened to this record at least a dozen times since it arrived in the post a few weeks ago, far more than was needed to review it. The reason is pure pleasure.