The seven partitas of Harmonia Artificiosa-Ariosa contain some of Biber’s finest chamber music outside of the Mystery Sonatas. They are consistently inventive and delightful. Especially noteworthy is the extended No. 7 in C minor with its lovely Arietta, actually more of a passacaglia/chaconne. No.3 ends with a chaconne structured as a canon in unison over a popular Italian bass line. This is so similar in concept to Pachelbel’s ubiquitous canon that you can’t help wondering if one of them took a cue from the other. Certainly, if wrested from obscurity, Biber’s might give Pachelbel’s a run for its money.
Intellectually concentrated, emotionally intense, technically difficult, and spiritually sublime, Henry Purcell's Fantasias for the Viols are exactly the sort of music that Jordi Savall was born to play and play superbly. And with his group Hesperion XX, they play them as superbly Savall does. The depth of tone of the instruments, the brilliance of the technique, the rigor of the interpretations, the soulfulness of the understanding, and the transcendence of compassion are nonpareil and the performances achieve a level unmatched by any other.
At under an hour this mini-masterpiece should be in every opera-lover's collection. There are scores of versions available but I tend to favour those with a Dido of really starry vocal quality given that her torments lie at the heart of the opera and all other considerations are secondary: Purcell and his librettist Nathum Tate make little of Aeneas's psychology and the other roles are all supplementary, reflecting upon Dido's plight, even to the extent of some suggesting that the Sorceress is her alter ego.
Although written for the configuration of two violins and continuo, Dietrich Buxtehude's Seven Sonatas, Op. 1, are not trio sonatas in the usual sense. They refer back to the older type of Italian ensemble sonata, with contrasting short sections following in rapid succession rather than the three- or four-movement sonata or dance suite types. Buxtehude came at the end of this tradition, which by 1694, when these sonatas were first published, was beginning to give way to newer Italian types in points further south.
Originally conceived as a play with musical accompaniment, Henry Purcell's 1691 King Arthur endures on the strength of its adventurous harmonies and appealing orchestration. Laying aside the Camelot legends, poet John Dryden framed the tale as the Christian King Arthur defending England against the pagan Saxons, and added colorful visitations by Greek and Norse deities to the plot.
Henry Purcell's oft-recorded opera, "Dido and Aeneas", is in fact the only one he ever composed, and renowned Baroque specialist René Jacobs turns out to be an ideal interpreter of this seminal 17th-century musical allegory. Not even an hour in length, the opera is an ideal introduction to this period of classical music, as Purcell melds a tragic love story with Shakespearean-level theatricality and surprising comedy elements. This 2006 reissue of a 1998 performance doesn't have quite the dramatic vibrancy of Emmanuelle Haïm's 2004 six-instrument ensemble, but it compensates with scope and polish…