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GRAMOPHONE (12/2015)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

Today Biber is probably the best known of the mid- to late-17th-century violin virtuoso composers, but this stylish recording offers a glimpse of the environment within which he worked. It draws from a huge collection of music preserved in a single manuscript, housed today in the library of the Minorite convent in Vienna (hence the disc’s title). Of its dozens of sonatas, some are ascribed to named composers, but several of the anonymous works have clear links to Habsburg court culture.


Aliquando is a French ensemble, two of whose members appear here as a duo. Violinist Stéphanie Paulet’s technique is fluent, restrained yet fleet of foot and unerringly stylish, capable of sustained, extended discourse whether her subject is a long pedal-point (such as the one that opens the disc) or a six-minute passacaglia (the anonymous No 75).


The strongly church-oriented context for this solo violin repertory justifies the use of the organ as the sole continuo instrument. Elisabeth Geiger presides over a chamber organ that is worth hearing for its sake alone, the only surviving positive by André Silberman (mentor and elder brother of the legendary Gottfried Silbeman). Built in the 1720s and recently restored, it combines the intimacy and quick action of a chamber instrument with sufficient power to fill an acoustic. It’s a wonderful instrument, discrete yet full of character, and it sports several show-stopping registers that Geiger introduces with real flair. Combined with the occasional use of scordatura on the violin, this lends a distinct character to each of the sonatas chosen for this recording. This is chamber musicianship of a high order.


The accompanying booklet has an excellent set of essays detailing various aspects of the recording, not least full notes on the Silberman organ, which is also beautifully photographed. Another of my year’s highlights, beyond doubt.


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