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Arcangelo CORELLI (1653 - 1713): Concerti grossi Op. 6 & Sonatas Op. 5

[I] "Concerti grossi, Sinfonia Santa Beatrice d'Este"
Freiburger Barockorchester
Dir: Gottfried von der Goltz
rec: Nov 21/24/25, 2017, Freiburg, Ensemblehaus
Aparté - AP190 (© 2018) (70'36")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto grosso in D, op. 6,1b; Concerto grosso in D, op. 6,2; Concerto grosso in c minor, op. 6,3a; Concerto grosso in D, op. 6,4; Concerto grosso in B flat, op. 6,5a; Concerto grosso in D, op. 6,7;b; Sinfonia to Beatrice d'Este in d minor (WoO 1)a

Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann, Philipp Wagner, oboea; Eyal Street, bassoona; Jaroslav Roucek, Hannes Rux, trumpetb; Catherine Motuz, Bastian Greschek, tromboneb; Gottfried von der Goltz, Beatrix Hülsemann, Mechthild Karkow, Jörn-Sebastian Kuhlmann, Brigitte Täubl, Annelies van der Vegt, Petra Müllejans, Daniela Helm, Christa Kittel, Kathrin Tröger, Lotta Suvanto, Tokio Takeuchi, violin; Werner Saller, Christian Goosses, Annette Schmidt, Lothar Haass, viola; Guido Larisch, Stefan Mühleisen, cello; Dane Roberts, James Munro, Miriam Shalinsky, double bass; Johanna Seitz, harp; Thomas Boysen, Andreas Arend, lute; Torsten Johann, harpsichord, organ

[II] "L'immagine di Corelli - 6 Sonate dell'Opera 5"
Susanne Scholz, violin; Michael Hell, harpsichord
rec: August 17 - 20, 2016, Graz, Palais der Kunstuniversität (Theater)
Querstand - VKJK 1621 (© 2018) (69'55")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Sonata in D, op. 5,1; Sonata in C, op. 5,3; Sonata in F, op. 5,4; Sonata in e minor, op. 5,8; Sonata in A, op. 5,9; Sonata in F, op. 5,10


Arcangelo Corelli has left a small oeuvre. However, he has played a key role in music history. His four sets of trio sonatas (Op. 1 to 4), his solo sonatas Op. 5 and his concerti grossi Op. 6 were used as models by generations of composers to come. His reputation as a violinist was such, that many a composer proudly mentioned having been his pupil. Moreover, the publication of his works made such an impression across Europe that they were time and again reprinted. His Op. 5 sonatas alone appeared in more than 50 editions until 1800. Another token of the appreciation of his compositions is that they were arranged in various ways by famous and less famous composers.

From that angle it is not surprising that Corelli's sonatas and concerti grossi are often recorded. Do we need any more recordings? The two discs under review here seem rather conventional. The Freiburger Barockorchester plays a selection from the set of concerti grossi, whereas Susanne Scholz and Michael Hell have recorded six of the twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo Op. 5. Is there anything here that we have not heard before? Yes, there is. That goes especially for the second disc. However, let us start with the concerti grossi.

The set of twelve Concerti grossi Op. 6 is Corelli's last printed collection. He himself prepared the printing, but when the set came from the press he had already died. The twelve concertos are divided into two genres: concerti da chiesa and concerti da camera. Eight concertos are of the first type; the most famous of them is No. 8, with the addition fatto per la Notte di Natale, a concerto to be played at Christmas night. It is sensibly omitted here, as it has been recorded numerous times. The Freiburger Barockorchester has confined itself to a selection of the concerti da chiesa.

The fact that the concerti grossi were published in 1714 does not tell us anything about the time they were composed. It seems likely that at least some of them date from the 1680s. Georg Muffat was in Rome at the time and reports that he heard Corelli's concerti grossi. It seems likely that over the years Corelli, who was known for being a perfectionist, continuously adapted and improved them. Therefore the concertos as they were published may be quite different from those Muffat heard about thirty years earlier.

The concerti grossi are mostly performed with a small group of strings. However, it is quite possible to perform them in different ways. Many years ago I heard London Baroque, playing some of them in the form of trio sonatas. Muffat mentions this practice in the foreword of his Ausserlesene Instrumental-Music of 1701. Chiara Banchini, with her Ensemble 415, recorded the entire set with a large ensemble. It seems that between thirty and forty musicians were involved in performances under Corelli's direction in the palaces of the Cardinals Pamphili and Ottoboni. With twelve violins, four violas, two cellos and three double basses the Freiburger Barockorchester is larger than many other ensembles in these concertos, but smaller than the Ensemble 415. However, there is something special here. In several concertos the strings are joined by wind: either woodwind (two oboes and bassoon) or brass (two trumpets and two trombones). The latter come into action in the concertos Nos. 1 and 7 in D major, which is the key of the natural trumpet. The oboes and bassoon participate in the Concertos Nos. 3 and 5, as well as the Sinfonia in d minor, which Corelli composed for Beatrice d'Este, an oratorio by his colleague Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier. The wind parts have not been preserved, and Gottfried von der Goltz reconstructed them for this recording. It is not the first time the concerti grossi are performed this way. In 1997 Federico Maria Sardelli recorded the complete set with additional winds, but his recording was released by the Italian label Tactus, which at that time may not have found a wide dissemination. It is an interesting and historically important approach to these concertos. Musically speaking I prefer the string versions, but the mixed versions here are given excellent performances, as one may expect from this ensemble.

Two further features of these performances need to be mentioned. The Freiburger Barockorchester is more generous in the application of ornamentation in the concertino than other ensembles I have heard. That is partly a matter of taste, as we don't know exactly how much ornamentation the composer would have preferred. But as by all accounts Corelli was a more energetic performer than his image in our time suggests, this may well be in line with his own performance practice. It works very well here. The Freiburger also aim for strong contrasts in tempi. The fast movements are generally faster and the slow movements a bit slower than in other performances. Some may find, for instance, the closing allegro of the Concerto No. 2 a bit too fast, and there is certainly not only one 'correct' tempo. But here it is entirely convincing. That is also due to the brilliant playing of the strings of the orchestra.

Whereas these performances of the concerti grossi with winds are based on a practice of Corelli's own time, Susanne Scholz and Michael Hell confront us with what composers of later generations have done with Corelli's arguably most famous and most influential edition: the sonatas for violin and basso continuo Op. 5. They were played everywhere, not only by amateurs but also by professional players. It seems likely that the sonatas as they were published, were not the same as Corelli had originally conceived them and played them himself. Most printed editions at the time were intended for amateurs - not, it need to be said, what we call amateurs, but simply non-professional players, many of whom were highly skilled. Even in the form in which they were printed they are technically challenging, and that goes especially for the first six, in the form of sonate da chiesa. The second half, comprising five sonate da camera and variations on La Follia, was considered a little more accessible to amateurs. That explains why the first arrangements for recorder, printed in England, confined themselves to the second half. Such arrangements were in high demand in England, as there the recorder was by far the most popular instrument among amateurs. Moreover, since the circulation of the original versions of the Op. 5 England was seized by a true Corellimania.

Susanne Scholz and Michael Hell selected six sonatas which they play in different arrangements and adaptations. The Sonata I in D is played here with the ornaments included in an edition published by Estienne Roger in 1710. These were claimed to be ornaments from Corelli's own pen. However, some music lovers had considerable doubts about their authenticity. The English music historian Roger North wrote: "Upon the bare view of the print anyone would wonder how so muc vermin could creep into the works of such a master." Whether they were indeed written by Corelli himself we probably will never know. It seems not out of the question, though, as his own playing must have been pretty virtuosic, even more than the sonatas as they are printed, suggest. Even Francesco Maria Veracini, who considered himself the greatest violinist of his time, seems to have played Corelli's sonatas. But he would not have been Veracini, if he had not felt the need to 'improve' them. The Sonata III in C is performed here with his alterations. He did not add ornaments; these are added here by the performers.

The Sonata IV in F is played in a version by the Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman. He added ornaments to the first and third movements, and inserted the closing cadence of the second. One of the better-known ornamented versions is that of the so-called Manchester manuscript. They are sometimes claimed to be from the pen of Corelli's pupil Pietro Castrucci, but that is impossible to prove. The embellishments in the Sonata VIII in e minor concern the first three movements. Francesco Geminiani was one of those composers who claimed to have been Corelli's pupil. He arranged the Op. 5 sonatas as concerti grossi; these belong among his best-known works. However, he also contributed his ornamentation to and some changes in the Sonata IX in A to A general History of science and practice of music by John Hawkins (1776). The year of publication shows that Corelli's sonatas remained to be held in high esteem, despite the changes in musical aesthetics.

The arrangements of Corelli's sonatas for recorder were already mentioned. Interestingly, this disc includes arrangements for harpsichord solo. These are from an edition published by Walsh & Hare around 1720. It is preserved now in the Music Library of the University of California, Berkeley. Michael Hell plays two movements from the Sonata X in F: preludio and gavotta. This seems to be a very interesting addition to the repertoire for the harpsichord.

Because of the performance of various versions this is a very interesting recording anyway. But there is more. The performers also aimed to demonstrate various ways of performing music for violin as well as of realizing the basso continuo. Susanne Scholz uses one violin, but three different bows. Both the violin and the bow are held in different ways. In one sonata the violin is held at the chest, with the bow played in underhand grip. Three sonatas are played with the violin held upright at the shoulder without help of the chin and the bow held from above the frog. Lastly, one sonata is performed with the violin held upright at the shoulder with the chin above, and with the bow held from above at a distance from the frog. The differences are most obvious between the sonatas I and IV, which sensibly are played in succession. Michael Hell also makes some differences in the way he plays the basso continuo, which he explains in the booklet. He uses two different instruments, copies after Giovanni Battista Giusti (Rome, 1681) and Christian Zell (Hamburg, 1728) respectively.

No doubt, this is a very intriguing and thought-provoking disc, which has much to offer, both with regard to the treatment of Corelli's famous Op. 5 sonatas and the various ways in which music of the 18th century can be performed. The liner-notes are very informative and a great help to understand what is presented here. Both artists deliver excellent and often exciting performances. I very much hope the remaining sonatas from this set will be recorded in different versions. There are many more than we get here. In his article 'Ornaments for Corelli's Violin Sonatas, op.5' (Early Music, Vol. 24, No. 1), Neal Zaslaw includes a list of the known sets of ornaments; it is available here.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Freiburger Barockorchester
Michael Hell

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