Biber: Vespro della beata Vergine; Kerll: Missa in Fletu Solatium / Cantus Cölln


The sacred works on this disc were composed by two powerhouses of the Baroque. The well-known Austrian composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) left a seemingly never ending trail of wonderful works, but Johann Kaspar Kerll, who also wrote a great number of outstanding pieces, is virtually forgotten. I truly don't remember ever hearing of him. When I listened to his Missa, which is excellent, I wondered why there aren't more recordings of his music out there.

Most of the recordings I saw online of Kerll's music were either out of print or part of some kind of collection. Even on this recording, he gets second billing on the disc jacket though his piece is the first performed. Kerll lived from 1627-1693. He studied under Carissimi and Froberger. Like many German composers at the time, most of his works were for keyboard or choral. He was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Both Bach and Handel borrowed from his works. It appears that Kerll's Missa was composed in honor of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the forces of Austrian Emperor Leopold I at the Battle of Kahlenberg in 1683. Kerll lost his wife in the Turkish siege. The mass is short, though vocally, very powerful. Cantus Colln is outstanding in their conception of this rarely performed work.

The Biber work is most interesting and well played. The Vespro is a vocal exercise that includes other works in its presentation. The six part cycle also contains motets from Kerll and a sonata of Biber's. The piece ends with a small Magnificat. Again, Cantus Colln is in top voice and the accompanying musicians play well and with spirit. The sonics are very natural and well balanced.

Biber (1644-1704) was slightly later than Kerll, living into the 18th century. Interestingly, his claim to fame is his violin compositions. Biber was considered a very important master of the violin, well into the Baroque period and beyond. In his sacred music, he might write for large groups of singers or small settings of as few as four voices. This CD was produced by Accent and WDR; it was recorded in March 2013 in Cologne.