Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Concerti grossi, Op.6 (1712)
Concerto grosso, Op.6/1 in D [11:36]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/2 in F [9:56]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/3 in c minor [9:53]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/4 in D [9:40]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/5 in B-flat [10:24]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/6 in F [12:26]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/7 in D [9:19]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/8 in g minor ‘fatto per la notte di Natale’
(‘Christmas’ concerto) [13:59]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/9 in F [8:47]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/10 in C [12:26]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/11 in B-flat [9:36]
Concerto grosso, Op.6/12 in F [10:16]
The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, March and April 1987 and Abbey Wood Studios,
January 1988. DDD.
Pitch = 415Hz. Tuning: unequal temperament. Period instruments.
[2 CDs: 129:11]
This is a doubly historic set; it was Corelli’s Op.6 concertos that firmed
up the form of the concerto grosso which, in turn, led to the
development of the great solo concertos of the classical and romantic
periods. Though published in 1712, it’s probable that the music had been
composed over a period of many years, perhaps as early as the 1680s, and
edited by Corelli for the publication. An embryonic version of the
‘Christmas’ concerto, No.8, seems to have been performed in 1690 and
contemporaries had already published concertos in the Corelli style.
Had there been no Corelli Op.6, there might well have been no Vivaldi Op.8,
including the Four Seasons, or Bach Brandenburg Concertos. Was it mere
coincidence that Handel’s most developed concerti grossi were
published as Op.6? And it was these
award-winning DG Archiv recordings from the 1980s which helped to consolidate period
performance in the music of this period, so I’m doubly pleased that Presto
have made them once again available on special CDRs, in addition to the download-only
set, 4594512, which costs a little less but comes without booklet. The 2-CD
set costs £15.75, the download, also from Presto in lossless sound, £12.90.
Other dealers charge more for the download.
There’s also a single-CD 65-minute download selection, but it costs almost
as much as the complete set, so it seems rather pointless. If you just want
an inexpensive single album, Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque
Orchestra are a better bet in Nos.7-12 (Harmonia Mundi Classical Express
HCX3957015, target price £5 in lossless sound) is a better bet.
Presto have already released the I Musici recordings of these
concertos, rather more expensive than the Pinnock set and less recommendable
(Philips 4563262). Though released as a set in 1990, I Musici's recordings
were made in the mid 1960s. If you wish to hear how the new, leaner and more
authentic I Musici sound, try their Concerti Romani, which
includes Op.6/4 and music from his Roman Heritage (Dynamic CDS7752 –
Corelli’s music was especially appreciated in England, where composers like
Charles Avison made their own concerti grossi out of movements from
Corelli’s sonatas; several recordings of these have been made, especially
by the eponymous Avison Ensemble (Naxos and Divine Art –
review). A recent Harmonia Mundi recording brings performances by la Rêveuse of
music heard in London c.1720 and influenced by Corelli, including a Sonata
by Geminiani and two by Handel (HMM905332). I've had time only for a first
run-through of that recording, as downloaded in 24-bit sound, with pdf
eclassical.com, but I'm impressed.
Back in the mists of time I got to know Corelli’s Op.6 from a Supraphon
recording of four of them, made by the Ars Rediviva – rather a de-luxe
gatefold offering considering that it cost just 17/6 (£0.87) and offered
performances on modern instruments with some sense of period style but much
heavier than I should like now. There had been recordings of Op.6/8, the
‘Christmas’ concerto, the earliest published by the Gramophone Society in
1927, in an edition by Frank Bridge. That was followed in 1929 by a
Brunswick recording featuring the London Chamber Orchestra and A Bernard.
The Gramophone reviewer noted that ‘the scale of the playing seems, at
times, too large for music of such delicate sensibility’, but liked ‘the
lovely pastoral piece at the end’. They don’t write like that anymore, but
it would be interesting to hear those early recordings.
Most of the earlier recordings either deeply sentimentalised or overwhelmed
the music and now sound intolerable. Recordings like that of Ars Rediviva
and, later, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Neville Marriner, a
set on which Trevor Pinnock appeared, didn’t mark the end of the overblown
performance. A 1971 recording of the Corelli Op.6/8 and other Christmas
concertos from the Berlin Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan – which I
mistakenly bought in a sale – continued the bad old tradition. Amazingly,
that’s still available as a download; it costs only £6.94 in lossless
sound, but don’t be tempted by the price (DG Galleria, or Karajan – The
Christmas Album, DG, also an inexpensive download).
It was Pinnock and his team, however, who helped us to understand the full
quality of these concertos. That’s partly due to his overall direction from
the keyboard and partly to the quality of the playing of The English
Concert, not least the concertino team of Simon Standage, Micaela
Comberti and Jaap ter Linden. Everything is in place, right down to the
theorbo playing of Nigel North – I think, the first time that I knew what
the theorbo was.
Nor are the performances merely a musicologist’s delight. Though the
impression is of liveliness where appropriate, the tempi are not breakneck,
and the effect is as much of dignity and affection as of pace. Technically,
only the final four concertos are of the da camera type, with
dance movements, but there’s never a dull moment in the first eight concerti da chiesa.
There’s even a greater degree of vibrato than the outright
historic-performance school would normally countenance, but it’s never
excessive. Compare Pinnock with Karl Münchinger and the Stuttgart Chamber
Orchestra – I suppose he had to come in somewhere as marking the transition
from the old style – in the ‘Christmas’ Concerto, No.8, and there’s hardly
any difference in tempo. Pinnock actually takes the opening vivace – grave and the fifth movement allegro a shade
slower than Münchinger, and he’s only seconds faster in the closing pastorale depicting the shepherds’ visit to the infant Jesus, an
emotionally moving performance without undue sentimentality. The
Münchinger, which appeared in 1961 on an LP of popular baroque music – the
Pachelbel Kanon, etc. – may have been slightly ahead of its time
in many respects, but the Stuttgart players use very generous vibrato.
Pinnock’s performances have held up very well in the intervening years and
this is still one of my recordings of choice, but it isn’t the only choice.
Bargain lovers will be well served by Roy Goodman and the Brandenburg
Consort on a two-for-one Hyperion Dyad recorded in 1992 (CDD22011). Order
and both the CDs and the lossless download with pdf booklet cost just
Another recording well worth consideration comes from the Avison Ensemble
on Linn. Since I
their set on SACD, it’s been reissued on CD only, albeit at full price
rather than effectively 2-for-1 as before (CKR411). Fans of hi-res sound
can, however, download it in 24/192 from
That was the first of a distinguished series of Corelli recordings from
this ensemble and my review lists a number of very fine alternatives –
rather than repeat the list, I’ll direct you to the link above.
I should also mention Amandine Beyer and Gli Incogniti (Zig Zag ZZT327 –
review). That’s currently download only, £15 in lossless sound or £18 in 24-bit,
with Amazon offering the CDs for £28.88, but the Outhere group have a habit
of reissuing 2-CD recordings from their stable at budget price, so worth
looking out for.
The DG recording quality has held up as well as the performances, which means that
the Presto special CDs remain very competitive. Several alternatives are
also worth considering: the Marriner for those who prefer modern
instruments played with a sense of period style, on a download-only twofer
(Double Decca 4438622, around £10 in lossless sound). Even less expensive,
on CD or download, is the Hyperion Dyad, with period performances as
stylish as Pinnock’s. The main competition comes from the Linn recording,
but its competitive pricing and SACD availability no longer apply, and the
hi-res download is quite expensive. All in all, unless you must have hi-res
sound, Pinnock and Goodman remain as recommendable as any.