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Arcangelo CORELLI (1653 - 1713): Solo & Trio Sonatas

[I] "Opus 5: Violin Sonatas"
The Avison Ensemble
rec: Jan 11 - 13 & 15 - 17, 2012, Cambridge, St George's, Chesterton
Linn Records - CKD 412 (2 CDs) ( 2013) (2.13'30")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata in D, op. 5,1; Sonata in B flat, op. 5,2; Sonata in C, op. 5,3; Sonata in F, op. 5,4; Sonata in g minor, op. 5,5; Sonata in A, op. 5,6; Sonata in d minor, op. 5,7; Sonata in e minor, op. 5,8; Sonata in A, op. 5,9; Sonata in F, op. 5,10; Sonata in E, op. 5,11; Sonata in d minor, op. 5,12 'Follia'

Pavlo Beznosiuk, violin; Richard Tunnicliffe, cello; Paula Chateauneuf, archlute, guitar; Roger Hamilton, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Sonate, Ciacona e Follia"
Accademia del Ricercare
rec: Sept 9 - 11, 2011, Romano Canavese (To), Chiesa di Santa Marta
Stradivarius - Str 33961 ( 2013) (60'49")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata in D, op. 2,1; Sonata in C, op. 2,3 (transposed to F); Sonata in G, op. 2,12; Sonata in d minor, op. 3,5; Sonata in f minor, op. 3,9 (transposed to a minor); Sonata in F, op. 5,4a; Sonata in e minor, op. 5,8b (transposed to g minor); Sonata in d minor, op. 5,12 (transposed to g minor)

Lorenzo Cavasantia, Luisa Buscab, recorder; Antonio Fantinuoli, cello; Ugo Nastrucci, theorbo, guitar; Claudia Ferrero, harpsichord

Sources: Sonate da camera a tre, op. 2, 1685; Sonate a tre, op. 3, 1689; Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo op. V, 1700


Arcangelo Corelli is one of the best-known composers in history. The development of instrumental music, and especially the form of the trio sonata, in the late baroque period is unthinkable without the influence of Corelli, through his sonatas and concerti grossi. The trio sonata would become one of the main forms of chamber music in the first half of the 18th century.

About the man himself surprisingly little is known. His career is well documented, although there are some white spots, especially in regard to his formative years, but there are conflicting testimonies of his character and the way he played. According to his pupil Geminiani it were "nice ear, & most delicate taste, which led him to select the most pleasing harmonies & melodies, & to construct the parts so as to produce the most delightful effect upon the ear". On the other hand, a contemporary described how Corelli "suffered his passions to hurry him away (...) whilst he was playing on the violin" and added that his eyes turned "red as fire" and his eyeballs rolled "as in agony". These observations seem to suggest that the music as it comes down to us in printed editions is only a shadow of what a performance in the composer's time must have been like.

This is supported by the many editions of Corelli's sonatas with added ornamentation which appeared soon after his death across Europe. Some of these editions were claimed to include ornamentation from Corelli's own pen. It was especially the set of twelve sonatas for violin and bc which was the subject of embellishment and arrangement. To the former category belong the editions of these sonatas in versions for recorder; several of these were produced and sometimes also published in England. Here Corelli's music was extremely popular and the recorder was still the main instrument among amateurs at the time it was rapidly becoming obsolete elsewhere. Among the latter category rank the concerti grossi which Geminiani based on the same op. 5 set.

How far arrangers went in their treatment of Corelli's sonatas is demonstrated by Pavlo Beznosiuk. To the last movement from the Sonata in E, op. 5,11 he adds four variations by Matthew Dubourg (1730-1767), an English violin virtuoso who was also a great promotor of Handel's oratorios. Probably in analogy to these variations Beznosiuk adds some of his own to the gavotta from the Sonata in F, op. 5,10. This is all very interesting, but it would have been more appropriate in a recording of pieces by Corelli in early 18th-century arrangements. In this recording of Corelli's complete op. 5 set these seem rather out of place. The addition of variations by others than Corelli also is rather arbitrary: why are these two movements treated this way, and why come other movements without any such additional variations?

I rather would have done without them, and heard a more dramatic interpretation of the sonatas instead. Beznosiuk adds quite a lot of ornaments - and rightly so - but on the whole his interpretation is too much middle-of-the-road. The tempi are moderate: in Stefano Montanari's interpretation which I labelled the best I knew at the time of reviewing the fast movements are almost always faster and the slow movements slower. He also creates stronger contrasts between phrases within a single movement. His performance is overall more theatrical and therefore is more incisive and makes a more lasting impression. Beznosiuk also plays too often legato and doesn't make enough difference between good and bad notes. His recording is technically accomplished, polished and neat, but not exactly something to get excited about.

The second production is an example of the way Corelli's sonatas have been treated in the early 18th century. In the booklet we read: "This recording brings together authentic masterpieces by Corelli in the original versions for recorder published by Walsh and by Pierre Mortier (Sonata 1 op. 2) in the first years of the 18th century. For the Follia op. 5/12 we chose Walsh's recorder version from 1702 together with the second violin part composed by Francesco Geminiani and also published by Walsh himself in London in its Concerti after op. 5 of Arcangelo Corelli, thus creating a fascinating version for three: two recorders and basso continuo. We transcribed some Sonatas following the example of the original arrangements of the eighteenth century". I would have liked to know exactly where they perform versions from the 18th century and which sonatas are the product of their own arrangements.

The two sonatas from op. 5 which are performed here with recorder are the least remarkable pieces as this practice is quite common and the sonatas from op. 5 have all been recorded this way. The version for two recorders of the 12th sonata from this set is more interesting, and an example of creative and at the same time historically plausible arranging. Quite rare are the trio sonatas from op. 2 and op. 3. I can't remember having ever heard these on recorders; these versions are far less common than the recorder versions of op. 5. These performances with recorders are highly convincing, and this way the repertoire for recorder is greatly extended. Obviously I don't know whether all the sonatas from these two sets work equally well on recorders - and what about the op. 1 and op. 4? However, a recording of more trio sonatas by Corelly with recorders would be very interesting and could be musically rewarding. Obviously, in some cases the sonatas are transposed to a different key. That should have been indicated in the tracklist.

The performances are equally convincing. Lorenzo Cavasanti and Luisa Busca deliver outstanding performances. They produce a beautiful tone, play with great agility and pay much attention to the rhythmic pulse. The pronounced exposition of the latter is also due to the excellent support of the basso continuo group.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

Relevant links:

Accademia del Ricercar
The Avison Ensemble

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