Anna & Elizabeth’s The Invisible Comes to Us taps into their imagination-fueled arsenal to present an extraordinary work of unique, genre-bending storytelling and sonic exploration. Lauded by many well-known musicians and widely loved for their moving minimalist arrangements, Anna & Elizabeth’s partnership pioneers new ways of presenting old songs and stories to modern audiences. Co-producer Benjamin Lazar Davis (Cuddle Magic) and legendary avant-rock drummer Jim White (The Dirty Three, Xylouris White) assist in the duo’s vision of breathing life and new perspective into the crackling and disintegrating recordings and artifacts of the past. Rarely does an album based on traditional folk music resonate so strongly in modern times.
This Bach release by American harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr is unusual in several respects and will be welcomed by listeners with Bach collections of any size. Start with the harpsichord, built by the iconoclastic maker Keith Hill in rural Manchester, MI. It's modeled on the Dutch Ruckers instruments of the 17th century, but it includes a set of 16-foot strings, and it has a truly mighty sound, beautifully captured at what is identified as Ploger Hall in the same locality. It's not clear what this venue is, but it's vast improvement over Naxos' preferred church sites. The booklet (in English only) includes a short note from Hill admitting that such a harpsichord would have been rare in Bach's time, but suggesting that it was a luxury item that its "value cannot be overestimated" when it is used where it makes musical sense. That's definitely the case here. These "concertos for solo harpsichord" are transcriptions Bach made for solo keyboard in the early 1710s, of mostly violin concertos by mostly Italian composers. It is not known for certain why Bach made them; he may simply have liked the music and wanted to study it more closely, but Farr's detailed notes also indicate that the transcriptions might have been done at the behest of Bach's patron at the time, the Duke of Weimar.
Like many of his German and Austrian contemporaries, Bohemian-born composer Heinrich von Biber was strongly influenced by the Italian school of violin composition that included Biagio Marini (1587-1665) and Marco Uccellini (1603-1680). A noted virtuoso himself, Biber and his teacher Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (1621-1680) were two of the most important figures of the late seventeenth-century Viennese violin style. Biber's keen understanding of the technical and expressive possibilities of the instrument is evident in his innovative use of pizzicato (plucking of the string with the finger), double and triple stops (more than one note played at once creating "chords"), col legno (stick of the bow on the string), sul ponticello (played close to the bridge), and, especially, scordatura (intentional "mistuning" of the strings). Scordatura allowed the performer to play chords in particular keys more easily, extended the range of notes, and provided more open strings in order to negotiate the difficulty of polyphonic writing for a single instrument. Biber's imaginative and original use of these techniques or special effects brought violin virtuosity to an entirely new level of musical expression in the Baroque period. It can be argued that J. S. Bach's masterful Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, written in 1720, are direct descendants of Biber's grounding breaking Mystery or Rosary Sonatas, composed nearly a quarter of a century earlier.