Corelli Concerti Grossi, Op 6

Author: 
Nicholas Anderson

Corelli Concerti Grossi, Op 6

  • (12) Concerti Grossi

With at least a dozen complete recordings of Corelli's one and only set of Concerti grossi already in The Classical Catalogue this newcomer from the Brandenburg Consort faces stiff competition. There are, however, many differing shades of interpretative opinion reflected among the various versions. One of Corelli's contemporaries, Georg Muffat, noted in the preface to a collection of his own concerti grossi, the Ausserlesene Instrumental-Music (1701), that he had heard some time earlier several of Corelli's concertos performed by a great number of instrumental players. On the other hand, we know that these pieces were often played by much smaller groups than that implied by Muffat. Roy Goodman, the director of the Brandenburg Consort steers a middle course with a string disposition of 5.5.4.2.1. In addition, the continuo fields a harpsichord, organ and archlute.
Corelli's Op. 6 contains two types of concerto, one termed da chiesa, the other da camera. The first eight concertos of the set belong to the former category, while the remaining four, of a less ostensibly serious character, belong to the second. Sometimes the differences are little more than terminological since there are, for instance, several clearly dance-orientated movements among the da chiesa concertos. The Brandenburg Consort give an affectionate and stylish account of these works, avoiding some of the more mannered gestures which have detracted from one or two of their recent releases. The playing is full of vitality and also responsive to the satisfying sounds inherent in Corelli's rich ripieno textures. The concertino group of two violins and cello also comes over effectively, providing that balanced contrast between small and larger units of sound.
Goodman and his ensemble react spontaneously to the rapidly changing rhythms and speeds, sometimes within a single movement, yet are careful not to hinder the clarity of Corelli's design. Equally they are receptive to the swiftly changing moods, at times almost mercurial, of the da chiesa concertos. The nobility and graceful gestures of slow movements are affectingly realized while faster ones are played with abundant energy. Sometimes the upper string sound is a little wiry and uningratiating the second allegro of the Concerto No. 1 in D major offers an instance of this—but for the most part the playing is commendably unanimous in matters of tuning and ensemble. The prominent balance of the archlute, providing tasteful embellishments, is another virtue of the set.
Furnishing readers with a single recommendation is impossible. If you want a larger instrumental body of sound with stylish playing then the version by Ensemble 415 can be strongly recommended. If on the other hand, you prefer a more da camera approach, then the playing of the Guildhall String Ensemble is likely to satisfy you. But if you are heading for something between the two, then the choice is perhaps between this new release and that of The English Concert. The latter are stronger in matters of intonation and all-round finesse, but Goodman is disinclined to drive the music quite as hard as Pinnock, and his performances perhaps touch deeper responses within me A stimulating issue.'

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