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Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Violin Sonatas, Op. 5, Nos. 7-12 (1700)
Sonata No. 7 in D minor [9:08]
Sonata No. 8 in E minor [11:12]
Sonata No. 9 in A major [11:41]
Sonata No. 10 in F major [10:18]
Sonata No. 11 in E major [8:39]
Sonata No. 12: Follia [11:55]
François Fernandez (baroque violin, Guarneri, 1690); Glen Wilson (harpsichord, Henk van Schevikhoven after a 1628 Ruckers)
rec. Kloster Bronnbach, Wertheim, Germany, 20-22 March 2006, DDD
NAXOS 8.557799 [62:53] 


Corelli’s Op. 5 comprises a set of twelve sonatas for violin and continuo, the first six of which Naxos recorded in 2002 with Lucy van Dael and Bob van Asperen.  That disc (Naxos 8.557165) received a fair welcome on this site from Paul Shoemaker and a warmer one from Emma Jones: her summing-up – “intelligent performances, and well worth buying, especially at budget price” – is equally applicable to the present completion of the set, albeit that two different artists, François Fernandez and Glen Wilson, are involved in this co-production with Bavarian Radio.  Anyone who responds favourably to Vivaldi or to Corelli’s own better-known Op. 6 Concerti Grossi need not hesitate to buy these lively performances of some fine music.  Published on January 1st., 1700, these sonatas were clearly meant to be the music of the new century and they became so popular that a number of early eighteenth-century arrangements of them, for various instrumental combinations and for keyboard solo, exist.  (Scores and mp3 excerpts from several of these can be found online

The best-known of these arrangements is Geminiani’s set of Concerti Grossi, Op. 5.

Which to choose – Corelli’s original penny-plain or Geminiani’s twopenny-coloured – the fuller sound of the Geminiani or the more immediate sound of the Corelli?  The contrast between the two versions is made all the starker by the fact that Naxos have decided, as on their earlier disc, not to employ a second continuo instrument, a decision ably defended in Glen Wilson’s very informative notes: his assertion that the ‘ò’ in Corelli’s indication Sonati a violino e violone ò cembalo means ‘keyboard or cello or gamba’, not ‘and/or’ seems logical, as does his statement that “harpsichord alone offers some advantages of clarity, certainly when a double-manual instrument is used.” 

Clarity is certainly the keynote of these performances and my ear did not crave the extra continuo.  This is probably partly due to the fact that the recording is close, but not too close, and that Wilson’s copy of a 1628 Ruckers harpsichord is rarely backward in coming forward, in contrast with the earlier CD, where Emma Jones found the continuo rather mild.  (Wilson makes a strong case for the availability and use of such a fuller-sounding instrument in Italy by the date of these sonatas.)  I don’t wish to imply that the harpsichord is out of proportion; indeed, just occasionally I felt that the violin was slightly too forward, but these are essentially violin sonatas with continuo accompaniment.  On the earlier disc three of the sonatas were performed with organ continuo; here the harpsichord is employed throughout. 

Tempi throughout are quite brisk, especially in the opening sonata, No. 7, though never unduly so.  The headnote on the back cover refers to Corelli’s “slow movements of a lyrical, elegant beauty”; the players achieve this lyricism while resisting the temptation to linger over-long in these movements.  The Sarabanda : Largo of the eighth sonata is a case in point where lyricism is achieved without any sense of lingering too long (2:30 against the 2:17 of the equivalent movement in Andrew Manze’s recording with the Academy of Ancient Music of the Geminiani orchestration but subjectively both sound correct in context – if anything, Manze sounds slightly slower and I Musici at 2:49 really do sound slow.  Straight time-comparisons are, in any case, not always relevant, since Geminiani recast some of the music as he orchestrated it.). 

The notes also refer to the technical demands of these virtuoso sonatas, demands to which the performers are fully equal.  This is nowhere more apparent than in the twelfth concerto, which is not really a concerto at all but a twelve-minute set of variations on that ubiquitous baroque theme La Folia.  (22 variations according to the booklet, 23 according to my edition.)  The folly involved relates to the madness of the performers of what began life as a dance, but could equally apply to any instrumentalists who seek unadvisedly to undertake what Geminiani names as the ultimate work of the violin repertoire.  Fernandez and Wilson rise very ably to the occasion.  The notes refer to Fernandez’s use of ornamentation derived from contemporary sources.  Without wishing to become embroiled in an academic debate, suffice it to say that I never found this ornamentation obtrusive: much of it is, in any case, marked in the score which I used. 

I have already referred to the AAM/Manze recording of the Geminiani Op. 5: only the second half of this set, Nos. 7-12, appears to be currently available, at mid-price, bundled with the 2007 catalogue on Harmonia Mundi HMX290 7262.  I Musici’s version of the complete set, formerly available on a recommendable Philips Duo issue (433 766-2) also appears to have been deleted.  Andrew Manze has recorded an excellent complete set of the Corelli originals with Richard Egarr on HMU90 7298.99 (2 CDs).  As on the present Naxos issue, Manze and Egarr dispense with the extra continuo.  Those who insist on the extra instrumentation are well served by Monica Huggett et al on a bargain Virgin Veritas twofer (5 62236-2) on which the keyboard part alternates between harpsichord and organ and which normally sells for even less than the two Naxos CDs. 

I expected to come away with a clear preference for the Geminiani versions yet, very well performed as these are by Manze and the Academy, I found myself preferring the fresh spring water of the Corelli as performed on this Naxos recording.  How appropriate that the recording venue, Bronnbach, means ‘spring-stream’.  The use of period instruments contributes to this sense of freshness.  If you want only one CD of Corelli, you may find that the sonatas on this second disc (chiefly sonate da camera) are easier on the ear than the sonate da chiesa on the earlier Naxos CD.

My only real complaint is that Fernandez and Wilson offer only the Geminiani revision of Sonata No. 9.  There would have been room to include the original version of this sonata also, as is the case on the Wallfisch recording (Hyperion CDA66381/2), which Paul Shoemaker preferred to the earlier Naxos issue. 

Brian Wilson



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