It may seem odd that the Avison Ensemble have left the Op. 1 and certainly
the Op. 3 Sonatas a chiesa a tre
until the end of their complete
edition. In fact, in many ways, this double CD package reveals that they
have left the purest wine until the end. Indeed it is the purity of Corelli
that especially struck his contemporaries including Dr. Burney, as Simon
Fleming reminds us in his extensive and fascinating notes and those of us
now who are fortunate enough to enjoy such wonderful performances as these.
Also Fleming recaps for us how much his works were imitated at the time,
especially in the Britain.
Corelli never used the term 'Church Sonatas' or the seeming opposite term
'Sonatas di camera' (Chamber Sonatas). These were added later and there is
really little distinction. As most music students know it's really a matter
of terminology. In these 'chiesa' works the movements, normally four in each
Sonata, are simply given Italian titles. For instance the G minor Op.1 no.10
goes: 1. Grave attacca
. Chamber Sonata movements might have
titles like 'Corrente', 'Sarabanda', 'Gavotta' or 'Giga'. It does not
prevent these latter works including more serious passages of fugue and
counterpoint or the former works from having dance rhythms as for example
the strong feeling of a Sarabande in Op.1 no.9 or inspiring the
The G minor Sonata just highlighted is not typical of the rest of the set
in that it has two Allegros side by side, one of which emerges from the
opening 'Grave'. The G major Op.1 no.9 has, as a finale, an Allegro which
fades into an Adagio, another rare feature. In the Op.3 Sonatas the pattern
is well set, as slow, fast, slow, fast except for the last. The grander
number 12 has the first movement divided Grave-Allegro-Adagio
followed by a Vivace
then an Allegro
which segues into an
and two more movements to end with alternating tempi.
In the 1680s Corelli's patron was that rather tiresome woman Queen
Christina of Sweden. She may well have had exercised a strong hand over what
she wanted the composer to produce. Anyway these 'first fruits of my study'
- Op. 1 is dedicated to her - have a wonderful sense of balance and taste.
The counterpoint is almost renaissance in its purity. The harmonic
suspensions are delicate and, apparently to his first audience, quite
'tear-jerking'. The Op. 3 set is dedicated to Duke Francesco II d'Este of
Modena who later became King James II of England's brother-in-law. It's
difficult to state firmly that there had been much technical or stylistic
change or development in the ensuing eight years. Indeed Corelli's
consistency is remarkable. However, perhaps the suspensions are more
meaningfully achieved and the fugal movements are a little more
The performances are, as noted by others concerning the Avison Ensemble's
previous recordings, immaculate. Corelli's talkative two-part violin writing
is sensitively handled by Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding. It is also
beautifully balanced, for example in the final intertwining lines of the
Allegro of Op.1 no.12. The players have worked together so often in this
repertoire that they seem instinctively to shade and manipulate the phrases
as if one voice. Occasionally Roger Hamilton moves the harpsichord as in
Op.3 no. 2 which adds a new colour. Paula Chateauneuf is always perfectly
secure and seems to guide the textures secretly from the side-lines. Richard
Tunnicliffe distinctively adds dynamic shadings in almost every phrase.
Neither can one fault the recording. I have been involved in recording at
the church just outside Cambridge at Chesterton and can vouch for its quiet
atmosphere and perfect acoustic.
If I had to pick one of the sonatas it might be Op.1 No.4 in A minor. Its
opening is full of that chatter I mentioned as is the third. The Adagio is
just a series of delicious falling scales. The players understand every
strain of these simple, direct but perfect ideas. Indeed I was looking at
paintings by Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1799) whilst listening. Chardin was
a painter from another country who took everyday scenes as his subject. What
an apt pairing these two great men of the baroque make.
This Linn album comes with the aforementioned essay, colour photos and the
usual artist biographies. I hope that I have encouraged you to search out
this wonderful recording and others in the Avison/Linn Corelli Edition.
Reviews of other Corelli recordings by the Avison
CKD411 Concerti grossi op. 6
CKD412 Violin sonatas op. 5
CKD413 Chamber sonatas opp. 2 & 4