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Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Violin Sonatas Op. 5 (1700)
Sonata in D, No. 1 [11:00]
Sonata in B-flat, No. 2 [9:48]
Sonata in C, No. 3 [10:57]
Sonata in F, No. 4 [10:15]
Sonata in g minor, No. 5 [10:12]
Sonata in A, No. 6 [10:09]
Sonata in d minor, No. 7 [8:49]
Sonata in e minor, No. 8 [9:45]
Sonata in A, No. 9 [10:29]
Sonata in F, No. 10 [16:51]
Sonata in E, No. 11 [12:30]
Sonata in d minor, No. 12, ‘Folia’ [10:14]
Members of The Avison Ensemble (Pavlo Beznosiuk (violin), Richard Tunnicliffe (cello), Paula Chateauneuf (archlute and guitar), Roger Hamilton (harpsichord and organ))
Pitch A = 392 Hz
rec. St George’s, Chesterton, Cambridge, 11-13 and 15-17 January 2012. DSD.
LINN CKD412 [63:06 + 70:23]

Having recently made a very successful recording of Arcangelo Corelli’s Op.6 Concerti grossi (CKD411- review) the Avison Ensemble now turn, in commemoration of the tercentenary of his death, to his less well known Op.5 Sonatas for violin and continuo. The very name of the group almost guarantees sympathetic performances: Charles Avison had studied with Francesco Geminiani in London and had arranged both Geminiani’s and Domenico Scarlatti’s Corelli-inspired sonatas as concerti grossi. They made excellent recordings of both sets of concertos for the Divine Art label before switching to Linn (DDA21210 - review - and DDA21213 - review - respectively).
 
Less well known these sonatas may be, apart, perhaps from the twelfth, la Folia, which spawned a whole genre - more on this anon - but they are both attractive and fearfully difficult. There is also one outstandingly good recording already in the catalogue, from Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi HMU907298/99). There are also very good budget-price recordings: from Convivium on Hyperion Dyad CDD22047 (2-for-the-price-of-1), from Monica Huggett and Trio Sonnerie (Virgin 5622362, 2 CDs for around £8) and from Lucy van Dael and Bob van Asperen on Naxos, Nos.1-6 on 8.557165 - review and review - and François Fernanadez and Glen Wilson in 7-12 on 8.557799 - review.
 
The Hyperion set includes Francesco Geminiani’s arrangement of No.9 in addition to the original and Volume 2 of the Naxos set has this in place of the original. There’s yet another recommendable budget-price Hyperion recording of Op.5/3, a viola da gamba arrangement of Op.5/11 and the most popular sonata, Op.5/12, la Folia, this time from the Purcell Quartet on the Helios label (CDH55240 - review). I praised the Helios recording as an ideal introduction to Corelli’s chamber works in my Download News 2013/2 and I touched on the other complete recordings in my review of Volume 2 of the Naxos set in 2007, so I started well aware that the benchmark for the new recording is very high. Richard Tunnicliffe features as cellist on the Hyperion recording and on the new CDs.
 
Whereas Manze and Egarr and the performers on both Naxos CDs play the sonatas ‘straight’, just violin and harpsichord, the members of the Avison Ensemble add variety to the continuo line, with Roger Hamilton alternating between harpsichord and organ and Paula Chateauneuf adding archlute or guitar to some of the sonatas. In addition, to the fourth movement of No.10, gavotta, are added six variations by Pavlo Beznosiuk, extending the movement by some seven minutes, and the fifth movement of No.12, another gavotta, consists of four variations by Matthew Dubourg (1703-1767), again some five minutes longer than Corelli’s published version.
 
The Op.5 sonatas were published in 1700 as a violino e violone ò cembalo, so Manze and Egarr and the Naxos performers are quite right to choose simply to employ violin and harpsichord - the text says cello OR harpsichord - and I’ve defended this as making perfectly sound musical sense in my review of the Naxos Volume 2. There’s no question of the music sounding austere with that simple line-up.
 
On the other hand Corelli’s ò is often take to mean either/or and the new recordings do so without overdoing the variety. The use of the guitar in No.12, la Folia, is particularly appropriate in view of the Iberian origin of the tune which gave rise to these variations - probably a Portuguese folk song. Corelli was by no means the first to employ this tune but it was his Op.5/12 sonata which kick-started a whole series of imitations, most notably by Geminiani, as recorded by The Purcell Band on Hyperion CDH55234 and the Academy of Ancient Music on Harmonia Mundi HMX2907262, both at budget price.
 
The small additions to the two gavottes are stylish and it’s nice to hear the variations in the performance of the bass line. The only advantage of the Hyperion recording in terms of variety would be the inclusion of both the original version of No.9 and the elaboration by Geminiani, who went on to orchestrate the whole Op.5 set. I found the Avison Ensemble’s recording of Corelli’s Op.6 revelatory in several respects, even with very good performances already available directed by Trevor Pinnock (DG) and Roy Goodman (Hyperion). The Op.5 recordings may not be quite so revelatory but they can certainly more than compete with the opposition.
 
Though it’s somewhat over-exposed, I imagine that most potential purchasers will be particularly interested in No.12, named by Geminiani as the ultimate work of the violin literature. I compared the new recording with that of Convivium on Hyperion, François and Wilson on Naxos and the BIS recording of Geminiani’s arrangement of this work as a concerto grosso (see below). Overall Convivium clock in slightly faster overall (10:59) than the Avisons (11:13); paradoxically they seem to take the adagio sections rather more slowly - it’s hard to be sure because Hyperion don’t track the sections separately as Linn do. I didn’t think that the music dragged on Hyperion and both recordings are sprightly in the faster sections, but I marginally prefer the new Linn recording, partly because of the use of the guitar in the continuo.
 
François and Wilson take a little longer than either the Hyperion or Linn performers (11:55) but I stand by the recommendation of this recording which I made some time ago. A particular virtue is the audibility of the harpsichord, allowing the continuo to be heard more clearly than on either of the other recordings. Though on paper the overall timing is slower, there’s no lack of vigour in the faster sections; in many respects this is the most forceful of the recordings. If you just want the more immediately attractive second half of the Op.5 set, this remains a desirable bargain, even though the Naxos price has gone up considerably in the UK since I first recommended it. If price is an issue you can download it in good mp3 from classicsonline.com.
 
After that you might expect the Geminiani arrangement to sound more colourful but, surprisingly, that isn’t necessarily the case, though the Barokksolistene play well. Ensemble 415 on Zig Zag (see below) also play this Geminiani arrangement well, though, at 11:55 they are as slow as François and Wilson (Naxos) in the Corelli original. The richer texture makes them sound a mite less forceful, though the final variation is as strongly performed as any of the recordings of the original or the arrangement.
 
In the end, choice can safely be left to circumstances: if you want SACD or Studio Master 24-bit downloads you will have to choose the new Linn recording. The performances are at least as good as those on offer from the other recordings that I’ve mentioned and the price won’t break the bank, even if you choose the 24/96 or 24/192 Studio Master download. On CD you should be able to find this set for around the same price as the Hyperion Dyad twofer, so only the Virgin Veritas and the Naxos CDs will be less expensive.
 
If you’re happy with a simple violin and harpsichord line-up, you certainly won’t go wrong with the Harmonia Mundi set, on sale for around £16-17, so not much more expensive than the new Linn set, or with either of the Naxos CDs. The Harmonia Mundi is also available in a 5-CD set, with music by Mozart, Rebel and Vivaldi at budget price (The Art of the Violin, HMX2907541/45, around £20).
 
If you’re interested in hearing what Francesco Geminiani made of these sonatas when he orchestrated them as his own Op.5 Concerti grossi, only the second CD of the 2-CD set to which Peter Grahame Woolf gave a 5-star welcome in 2001 - review - remains available. Still, half is better than none and it comes at budget price, typically around £5.50 (HMX2907262). Harmonia Mundi really should restore the whole set; there’s clearly a demand because Amazon are asking over £104 for the two CDs as I write. Geminiani’s orchestration of No.12 is included with music by Handel and other contemporaries on a BIS recording, London Calling (BIS-SACD-1997 - review and May 2012/2 Download Roundup).
 
The whole Geminiani set of twelve is available performed by Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini on Zig Zag Territoires ZZT04301. We don’t seem to have reviewed the Banchini - watch out for a possible future appearance in an edition of my Download News. It’s available on CD only as part of a 7-CD set (ZZT316) but the 2-disc mp3 download from classicsonline.com costs a very reasonable £8.99. My initial reaction, having listened to No.12 from this set (see above) via Naxos Music Library is favourable. The older set from I Musici on Philips Duo is effectively pensioned off now, no longer generally available on CD.
 
If you want to hear more music by Geminiani, this time independent compositions but heavily influenced by the Corellian model, look out for my review of the London Handel Players’ new recording of his twelve Op.1 sonatas on Somm SOMM248-2.
 
There’s very little that I can contribute by way of bad news, so I’m plucking at straws. The cover image of a stone angel like that of the Op.6 concerti, a none too subtle pun on the name Arcangelo (?), is a bit mournful - I haven’t been too impressed with Linn covers recently - and I’d have liked to have had overall timings for each of the sonatas, not just individual movements: I had to tot them up myself and it’s a long time since, as a deputy headmaster filling the gaps I’d left in the timetable, I taught any maths. As the first reservation is hardly major and the second doesn’t apply to the general listener, I see no reason not to commend the new recording highly. 
 
The good news is that not only do these CDs maintain the high standard of performance, recording and presentation set by CKD411; I also understand that there are two more Corelli releases due from this source in 2013.
 
Brian Wilson 

Experience Classicsonline