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Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Twelve Concerti grossi, Op. 6 (1712)
The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, March-April 1987 and Abbey Road Studios, January 1988
DDD. Pitch – 415Hz.
Presto CDR
ARCHIV 4749072 [63:55+65:23]

The winner of the Gramophone Early Music Baroque Award in 1989, this recording is a timely reminder of The English Concert’s greatness in its Trevor Pinnock years. I am sure I am not alone in feeling nostalgic at the sight of the LP DG Arkiv sleeve reproduced on the cover of the Presto CD.

The English Concert trailblazed excellence in Early Music. There is now much sensitivity to performance practice in the ‘old style’. Even so, one cannot dismiss the verve and, indeed, sheer love displayed on the 1953 Vox LPs of Corelli’s Op. 6. The playing of the Corelli Tri-Centenary String Orchestra, conducted (not directed, mind) by Dean Eckertsen, was brilliantly spruced up in Pristine Classical’s release (PASC020) reviewed by Jonathan Woolf. From thence, of course, came the likes of I Musici – and then we lit on the HIP brigade.

Pinnock’s recording was a deserved award winner (it was also, Presto Classical’s website reminds us, runner-up in BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library in November 2000). This is Baroque playing of the very highest order. Right from the off, the first Concerto grosso (D major) is a paragon of invention married to elegance, particularly in the simply beautiful Largo fifth movement; notice how pinpoint the imitative entries are in the ensuing Allegro, too.

The sheer expressivity of the slow sections of the first movement of No. 2 (F major) is remarkable: the concertante tight and brilliantly toned, the finale bright as a button. Perhaps, what is so impressive in amongst all of the tightness of ensemble and the studio excellence is Pinnock and his players’ ability to pinpoint the individual world of each Concerto grosso. Nowhere is this so evident than when Corelli moves to the minor mode. The third Concerto grosso is cast in C minor, and Pinnock enables us to hear the high seriousness of the opening Largo without ever over-egging his pudding. The performance exudes vim in the penultimate Vivace; the suave close of the final Allegro is perfection itself.

The contributions of the concertino group themselves have a crispness and alertness that provides much joy: Simon Standage and Micaela Comberti on violins and Jaap ter Linden on cello. Listen to the first movement of No. 4 (D major) to hear how attentive the solo group is to detail.

The second disc brings us the so-called “Christmas Concerto”, Op. 6 No. 8. Inscribed with ‘Fatto per la notte di Natale’ (produced for the night of Christmas), it raises an interesting question that can also be asked about Haydn and Mozart symphonies and string quartets. Nicknaming a piece of music seems to increase its chances of performance, but does that necessarily mean it is any better (or worse, for that matter) than its non-named companions? The delight in discovering nameless Haydn Symphonies is an enterprise well worth undertaking; ditto with both Haydn and Mozart String Quartets. Fashioned with the same craftsmanship as its brethren in Op. 6, personally I find it primus inter pares, and there seems to be an extra ladling on of freshness to the English Concert’s performance, particularly in the gently lilting finale, a Largo ‘Pastorale ad libitum’.
Other delights? The almost Bachian Allemande from the F major Concerto grosso (Op. 6 No. 9, where we have dance movements: Preludio, Allemande, Courante, Gavotta, Adagio, Menuetto), the sheer life in the C major’s ‘Allemande’ (No. 10 - this and the sprightly ‘Corrente’ are utter joy) and the deliciously lachrymose opening ‘Preludio” (Adagio) of the final Concerto grosso (No. 12 in F), mirrored in the slow shufflings of the third movement Adagio.

We can hear huge amounts of detail also because of the excellence of the recording. Recording supervision was courtesy of Dr. Gerd Proebsch, while the Balance Engineer was Peter Schweigmann, and Bruno Nellessen was the editor. Franco Piperno’s excellent notes round off a superlative re-release, a reminder of the excellence of the English Concert in the Pinnock era.

Colin Clarke

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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