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.
Booklet of notes included.
[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
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
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
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.