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Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Concerti Grossi Op. 6/1-6 (pub.1714):
Concerto No.1 in D major [11:08] 
Concerto No.2 in F major [9:23]
Concerto No.3 in C minor [9:14]
Concerto No.4 in D major [9:25] 
Concerto No.5 in B-flat major [9:32] 
Concerto No.6 in F major [11:20]
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan
rec. 1989.  DDD.
Harmonia Mundi Classical Express HCX395 7014 [60:02]
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arcangelo Corelli
Concerti Grossi Op. 6/7-12  (pub.1714):
Concerto No.7 in D major [7:51] 
Concerto No.8 in G minor ‘fatto per la notte di Natale’ [12:02] 
Concerto No.9 in F major [7:58] 
Concerto No.10 in C major [11:02] 
Concerto No.11 in B-flat major [7:59] 
Concerto No.12 in F major [9:02]
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan
rec. 1989.  DDD.
Harmonia Mundi Classical Express HCX395 7015 [57:13]

Experience Classicsonline

The release of the first and second batches of Harmonia Mundi’s new mid-price Gold series – see Rob Barnett’s overview of the first batch – serves to remind me that there are even greater bargains to be found in their back catalogue. Many of them are in the super-budget Classical Express series, from which I have singled out these two CDs and a recording of the music of Byrd (Music for a Hidden Chapel, HCX395 5182 - see review).  And if you’re looking for a bargain version of Handel’s Water Music, snap up the McGegan recording of this on Classical Express (HMX395 7010) before it goes up to mid-price on HM Gold.
 
I’ll get my one grumble out of the way first.  Like all the recordings in the Classical Express series, these two Corelli CDs come with most unimaginative covers.  When the new HM Gold series offers such attractive artwork, do we have to have our noses rubbed in the difference between mid-price and budget-price? 
 
They are, however, recommendable on every other count – idiomatic direction, with sprightly but not exaggeratedly fast tempi, splendid orchestral playing and excellent recording.  There is a case for preferring the mid-price Archiv recording (474 907 2, English Concert/Trevor Pinnock), but the advantage is not so considerable as to outweigh the price difference. 
 
McGegan is consistently faster than Preston, especially in Nos.7 and 8: you might just prefer Preston’s slightly gentler treatment of the pastorale final movement of No.8, the Christmas Eve concerto.  McGegan’s jaunty tempo for this section takes a little getting used to, though it is marked ad libitum; in the final analysis, both versions are excellent within their own terms.  I can certainly live with what others might regard as McGegan’s extreme interpretation of ad libitum in this movement.
 
You may still come across the earlier single disc selection of six concertos from this Preston set (431 706-2) if you find the thought of all twelve concertos daunting.  If you just want one CD of the McGegan set, you’ll probably prefer the second, containing the famous Christmas concerto and the four concerti da camera (No. 9-12) which contain dance movements.
 
Both Preston and McGegan have an idiomatic understanding of the music; both are well recorded, and both are preferable to the Naxos recordings (8.550402 and 8.550403, Capella Istropolitana/Jaroslav Krček) unless you are averse to original instruments. Krček should, however, satisfy non-authenticists: his versions are certainly far preferable to the elaborately packaged but very heavy Supraphon recordings from which I first became acquainted with this music.  In some movements, his timings come close to, or are even a shade faster than those of McGegan. 
 
Those looking for just one CD will find a single-disc selection from the Krček recordings on 8.571020 – very good value, with six concertos, including the Christmas concerto, weighing in at 74:18.  The only trouble is that, having dipped your toe into the water, you’ll almost certainly want the other concertos, which will entail duplication. 
 
Don’t even think about Karajan’s DG recording of Italian Christmas concertos.  If you want a selection of these, including the Corelli, Krček will oblige again (Naxos 8.550567) for those not requiring period performances.
 
Harmonia Mundi have their own strong competitor, Chiara Banchini with Ensemble 315 on a 2-for-1 set (HMX290 1406.07, around £12 in the UK).  I haven’t heard this version in full but her tempi throughout No. 8, especially for the pastorale ad libitum are slower than McGegan’s and much closer to Preston’s.  Cantilena, available on the inexpensive Chandos Collect label (CHAN6663), are at the other extreme, with tempi consistently slower than any other version that I know: I sampled the opening of No.8 and found it sluggish.  The Brandenburg Consort/Roy Goodman on a 2-for-1 Hyperion Dyad (CDD22011) offer tempi very similar to Preston’s at a slightly lower price.
 
All these Classical Express recordings are available as downloads from eMusic in very acceptable mp3 sound but, whereas a recording such as Byrd’s Music for a Hidden Chapel (Chanticleer on HCX395 5182) is good value – five tracks for a total of £1.20 on the 50-track-per month tariff – the Corelli recordings, both the McGegan and the Banchini, are poor value when they contain so many tracks, especially when iTunes offer the Classical Express recordings for £4.74 each and the CDs can be obtained for around £5 each in the UK.  The second volume comes on 33 tracks, almost as much as buying the two CDs together.  The moral is that, while it’s worthwhile to download the Byrd, you’d be better to save yourself the trouble with the Corelli and buy the CDs.
 
The Banchini set of Corelli is also available to download from eMusic but the 46 tracks would use up a sizeable portion of one’s monthly allocation: eMusic ought to look again at the issue of CDs with very many short tracks, a comparatively expensive way of obtaining the music.  This recording is also available from iTunes but not, apparently, in their ‘plus’ format and it costs a rather uncompetitive £15.99.  Their selection of six concertos from this set, including the Christmas concerto, is better value at £6.32, but you may find that some dealers offer this on CD for about that price (HMX297 1407).  The iTunes version of the Hyperion Dyad recording of Corelli is also more expensive, at £15.99, than the price at which many dealers offer the CDs.  I really cannot see the point of downloading if it costs more than CDs and comes without the booklet of notes.
 
You don’t get any notes if you download any of these recordings, though Harmonia Mundi offer the texts of the Byrd on their website and Hyperion now offer their booklets online.  Whichever way you obtain them, these two CDs are well worth their modest cost.  Every lover of baroque music should have the Corelli concertos – third in line after Bach’s Brandenburgs and Vivaldi’s Seasons, in my opinion.
 
Those wanting to explore Corelli further should try the Naxos CD of the violin sonatas, Op.5/7-12, which I recommended last year (8.557799) and/or the earlier release, with different artists, of Op.5/1-6 (8.557165 – see review).
 
Brian Wilson
 

 


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