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Christmas Concertos
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713) Concerto grosso in g minor (per la notte di Natale), Op.6/8 [13:25]
Angelo RAGAZZI (1680-1750) Sonata à Quattro for violin, strings and continuo in G, Op.1/12 (Pastorale) [8:05]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Concerto for violin and strings in E, F.I/4, RV270 (Il Riposo) [7:23]
Lorenzo Gaetano ZAVATERI (1690-1764) Concerto for two violins strings and continuo (Pastorale), Op.1/10 [10:05]
Giovanni VALENTINI (1681-1753) Sinfonia per il Santissimo Natale , Op.1/12 [8:54]
Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764) Concerto grosso, Op. 1/8 [14:23]
Cappella Gabetta/Andrés Gabetta (violin)
rec. Martinskirche, Mühlheim, 24-26 January 2016. DDD
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88985332982 [62:15]

Reviewed as streamed with pdf booklet from Qobuz.

Just when I had put my Christmas selection to bed for the year, still through the cloven skies they come.  This collection of Christmas concertos ‘before and after Corelli’ particularly caught my eye because though it begins and ends in familiar territory, with Corelli’s best-known concerto from his ground-breaking Op.6 collection and with his most accomplished pupil and successor Locatelli, there’s plenty of unfamiliar ground between.  There are only two other recordings of the Ragazzi sonata and the Zavateri and Valentini are both sole recordings.

The words ‘stunning’ and ‘brilliant’ feature in the publicity material and I must point out from the outset that these are mixed blessings in the familiar works.  There’s too little repose in the Vivaldi Il Riposo concerto and the opening Corelli is also taken briskly, by which I don’t just mean tempo, by comparison with my favourite recordings.  That’s fine in the faster movements but the closing pastorale, depicting the shepherds paying homage to the infant Jesus is a little lacking in reverence.  I certainly don’t want the sugary tones of the Berlin Philharmonic whose recording with Karajan is still inexplicably available, but Gabetta and his colleagues don’t convey for me the magnum mysterium of the moment: the music is on the move too much for rapt contemplation.

The Avison Ensemble with Pavlo Beznosiuk in their complete survey of Corelli’s Op.6 somehow contrive to take this movement at quite a pace but, as I wrote in reviewing that recording, the mood is evoked without any heavy underlining.  (Linn CKD411, 2 CDs – review).

Before the Linn recording my choice for the Corelli Op.6 concertos lay with The English Concert directed by Trevor Pinnock and No.8, apparently taken from that set, is available on a DG Archiv recording of Christmas Concertos.  It rounds off a collection of works by Marc Antoine Charpentier (four of his Noëls pour les instruments), Johann Molter (Concerto pastorale in G), Antonio Vivaldi (Concerto for 2 trumpets, strings and continuo in C, RV537), Giuseppe Sammartini (Concerto Grosso in g minor, Op.5/6: Pastorale), Georg Philipp Telemann (Concerto polonois in G, TWV43:G7) and George Friderick Handel (Concerto a due cori No.1, HWV332).  That’s available as a special Presto CD (4352622) or to download there in mp3 or lossless sound with pdf booklet.

Pinnock, who rounds off the collection with the Corelli, also obtains a greater sense of the magic of Christmas than Gabetta and his team.  The other works, too, are sensitively performed and though not everything here is clearly linked to Christmas – the Handel only by dint of ‘borrowing’ from Messiah, ‘And the glory of the Lord’ – the download is especially attractive at £3.97 or £4.96 (mp3/lossless, both with pdf booklet).

I wouldn’t, then, go for the new recording for the sake of the Corelli or Vivaldi but I enjoyed hearing the Ragazzi, Zavateri and Valentini works.  With no benchmarks in mind I found myself much less critical of the performances.

The recording is rather close, making this small ensemble sound larger, but otherwise good.  I have some issues with the booklet.  If Corelli is the earliest composer here, as the notes aver, how come the title of those notes ‘Before and after Corelli’?  The track list (correctly) gives the dates of Giovanni Valentini, a Greek contemporary of Monteverdi, but the composer of the work here is Giuseppe Valentini, like Locatelli a student of Corelli.   Even on the basis that his music is little known, the confusion is – confusing.

Though I have reviewed the streamed version from Qobuz and it comes complete with the booklet, I can’t recommend the download at £11.59 when the CD is on offer as I write for £10.50, though 24-bit enthusiasts may think it worth paying £13.39 for that version.  I’d recommend purchasing just the three rarities but that adds up, even from the least expensive mp3 download that I can find,  costing almost as much as the whole album.

There are other recommendable recordings of Christmas Concertos.  I’ve mentioned the Pinnock on DG Archiv.  I Musici offer the Corelli and Locatelli plus Manfredini Op.3/12 and Torelli Op.8/6 in rather dated performances on a Philips recording – download only or Presto special CD – but better value is to be had on a budget-price Chandos release from Collegium Musicum 90 and Simon Standage: Corelli, Manfredini, Alessandro Scarlatti Cantata Pastorale (with Susan Gritton), TelemannIn dulci jubilo and Vivaldi Il Riposo.  (CHAN0754 – Download Roundup December 2008).  Just avoid the Karajan.

The very fine selection of six concertos from Locatelli’s Op.1, recorded by Freiburg Barockorchester and Gottfried von der Golz in 2004, including the Christmas concerto, No.8, has just been reissued on the budget Harmonia Mundi label (HMA1951889 [60:49]).

Despite my preference for Simon Standage where the two collections overlap and for Pinnock or Beznosiuk in the Corelli, there is sufficient music that’s limited to the new recording for me to recommend it in addition.

Brian Wilson




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