Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Concerti Grossi, Op. 6
Concerto Grosso in D, No.1 [11:17]
Concerto Grosso in F, No.2 [10:40]
Concerto Grosso in c minor, No.3 [10:52]
Concerto Grosso in D, No.4 [9:23]
Concerto Grosso in B-flat, No.5 [10:25]
Concerto Grosso in F, No.6 [11:56]
Concerto Grosso in D, No.7 [9:02]
Concerto Grosso in g minor, No.8 [14:18]
Concerto Grosso in F, No.9 [7:53]
Concerto Grosso in C, No.10 [12:30]
Concerto Grosso in B-flat, No.11 [9:30]
Concerto Grosso in F, No.12 [9:53]
The Avison Ensemble/Pavlo Beznosiuk
rec. St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London, 23-30 July 2011. DSD
Booklet of notes included.
LINN SACD CKD411 [65:10 + 64:27]
Corelli’s Op.6 Concerti grossi were effectively the model for Vivaldi and his other successors. My introduction to these concerti, some fifty years ago was from a Supraphon LP of five or six of them played (as I recall) by Ars Rediviva, a group who, despite their impressive Latinate title, were much less in tune with the music of this period than the Avison Ensemble. It nevertheless came as much of an epiphany moment, like Keats looking into Chapman’s Homer, as my earlier introduction to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. It’s no reflection on that Czech ensemble to describe their performances as heavy - at the time we were listening to meaty performances of Bach and Vivaldi from the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and Karl Münchinger and thinking how clever we were to be enjoying such ‘rare’ early music as the Brandenburgs and Four Seasons. Autre temps
Since then there’s been a revolution in playing the music of this period and we have had some fine performances of these concerti grossi, notably on period instruments:
- The English Concert and Trevor Pinnock, currently on a 2-CD DG set at mid price, 474 9072
- Nicholas McGegan with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi HCX3957014/5 - see review, now available as download only)
- Roy Goodman and the Brandenburg Consort on a 2-for-1 Hyperion Dyad set (CDD22011).
- Nos.4, 8, 11 and 12 with Sonata a Quattro in g minor and Fuga a Quattro voci: Chamber Orchestra of the New Dutch Academy/Simon Murphy (PentaTone PTC5186031)
- No.4 on London calling: Music by Handel and his contemporaries (BIS-SACD-1997: Barokksolistene/Bjarke Eike - see review and May 2012/1 Download Roundup)
- Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (currently unavailable in the UK: Nos.1-6 only available for download on Opus 111 OP30147 from
Even if period instruments don’t appeal, Neville Marriner adopts a light touch with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on Double Decca 443 8622, two CDs available for around £9. Also in the budget category and light-ish in touch are performances on Naxos from Capella Istropolitana and Jaroslav Kr(e)ček (Nos. 1-6 on 8.550402 and 7-12 on 8.550403. No.8 is also available on a CD of Christmas Concerti, Naxos 8.550567.
Now along comes the latest release from the Avison Ensemble whose performances of the music of their namesake on the Divine Art label and subsequent appearances in Handel and Vivaldi on Linn have also received high praise, not least from me:
- CKD362: Handel Concerti Grossi, Op.6/1-12 - Download of the Month: July 2010 Download Roundup
- CKD365: Vivaldi Concerti, Op.8/1-12 - see October 2011/2 Download Roundup
On opening my latest parcel of review discs, then, I had the highest expectations on seeing the set of Corelli’s Op.6, housed in a gatefold triptych and, as I see, offered at an attractive price - effectively 2-for-1 or even less from some online suppliers. In brief, if you don’t yet have a set of these ground-breaking works, or even if you have, perhaps, No.8, the ‘Christmas’ Concerto, in a collection of similar works, you won’t regret buying any of the versions which I’ve named; the new recording from the Avisons, who have a strong claim to offer the lightest and airiest accounts that I’ve heard is not least among them. If you want SACD into the bargain, then you can forget about choice and plump for the new Linn set.
We have grown used to some very fast tempi for music of this period, especially from Italian ensembles. While Pavlo Beznosiuk is no slouch, he’s certainly no speed merchant either; the adagio sections of the first movement of No.7, for example, seem to be taken more slowly than is normal nowadays yet, at 2:27 the time for this movement overall is equal to that on the Marriner recording and surprisingly faster than Pinnock who takes 2:38. For some really airy playing try the finale of this concerto at 1:11, exactly the same time as on the Pinnock recording.
No.8, fatto per una note di Natale, the beautiful ‘Christmas’ concerto, is the best known of the set. In the adagio-allegro-adagio movement of No.8 Beznosiuk adopts a faster overall tempo than Pinnock, Krček or Marriner, though I never felt any sense of undue haste and the opening adagio is given due weight. Again in the pastorale: largo where the shepherds of the Nativity are evoked, the new recording doesn’t hang around but the mood is well evoked without heavy underlining. You will, I think be disappointed with that tempo only if you’re inseparably wedded to the ponderous way that these movements used to be treated, most notoriously by Herbert von Karajan (DG E419 4132 or 419 0462, with different Christmas music couplings). Karajan takes 5:04 for the pastorale, Marriner and McGegan are a shade too fast perhaps at 2:22 and 2:45 respectively; Beznosiuk happily splits the difference at 3:42, with Goodman in close agreement at 3:43 and Pinnock is a shade slower at 4:06. Compromise isn’t always the right answer but I’m with Beznosiuk, Goodman and Pinnock here.
The PentaTone recording from the New Dutch Academy is the most difficult to classify: in some ways the sound is weightier than we are used to from period performances and tempi sometimes seem a little on the slow side without being heavy, but in the pastorale of No.8 they really let fly with a combined time for the allegro and largo (on one track) of 4:41. That means that they take less time for the two combined than Karajan for the largo alone and more than a minute less than Beznosiuk or Goodman. The allegro section is fair enough at their tempo but the largo is surely too fast, though it came as less of a surprise the second time that I heard it. Nevertheless the PentaTone set is well worth exploring, especially as the Op.6 concerti were first published in Holland; try it from the Naxos Music Library if you can.
You’ll also find there a complete recording of Op.6 from Cantilena (Chandos CHAN6663 (2)); it has some interesting qualities and comes inexpensively in their Collect series at around £10.50, but it’s better to spend a little more on the new Linn recording or the Hyperion twofer. The separate movements are not tracked but Cantilena’s time for the largo of No.8 is around five minutes, almost as slow as Karajan, though far less heavy.
The Linn recording is good - truthful without trying to be spectacular - and the booklet of notes does justice to Corelli’s music. The SACD stereo layer adds greater depth to the sound picture without adding heaviness. Linn also offer these recordings to download in a variety of formats, ranging from mp3 at £8 to Studio Master 24/96 and 24/192 at £18. Unfortunately I can’t comment on these as my access to Linn downloads seems to have dried up.
The best news of all is that this set is apparently the harbinger of a complete series of Corelli’s chamber music from the Avison Ensemble. I look forward with anticipation to what is to follow.
I have just one small grumble about the presentation: after the attractive cover pictures on the Handel and Vivaldi recordings, the graveyard angel surely sets the wrong tone for these life-giving works. Don’t let it put you off.
Hitherto Pinnock and McGegan have been my prime recommendations for these concertos and if price is a consideration Goodman is also very good; without wishing to desert them, the present new set is a strong alternative for those looking for SACD.
Brian Wilson 

Strongly competitive with earlier issues and additionally available in SACD yet economically priced.