Corelli Violin Sonatas

Imagination and brilliant technique bring Corelli’s ‘refined and pure’ music to dazzling life

Author: 
Lindsay Kemp

Corelli Violin Sonatas

  • (12) Sonatas for Violin/Recorder and Continuo

Considering the acknowledged status of Corelli’s Op 5 violin sonatas, it is surprising how few of today’s star Baroque violinists have recorded them. Published as a clear statement of intent on January 1, 1700, they are a benchmark not only in the history of the violin but of chamber music in general; yet despite being an accepted model of compositional purity and refinement which lasted throughout the 18th century and beyond, for many music-lovers – even Baroque music-lovers – they are still relatively little-known territory. Perhaps it is their finely honed perfection which has counted against them. Maybe they just seem too polite. Accounts of Corelli’s violin-playing tell us that his eyes would glow ‘red as fire’ and his face contort, but evidence of this volatile character has not not always been easy to detect in the written notes of the violin sonatas.

If anyone is going to find him, however, it is Andrew Manze, who has repeatedly demonstrated that the heart of Baroque music lies beyond what is on the printed page, and that the performer has a crucial creative role to play. At a time when improvisational flair and spontaneity have never been a more exciting part of Baroque music-making, Manze and his accompanist Richard Egarr are the masters of it, and here they have produced a Corelli recording which is nothing short of revelatory.

Not that it is unthinkingly wild or bizarre. Manze may have adorned the music with his customarily liberal decoration of extra double-stops, flowery arabesques and emphatic gestures (not always waiting for a repeat to do so) – and Egarr may have performed his usual extraordinary feats at the keyboard, devising an array of inventive keyboard textures which ranges from luxurious feather-bed arpeggios and swirls to daring, stabbing left-hand double-octaves (no other continuo player manages to sound so much as if his fingers were a direct extension of his imagination) – but this is still Corelli with a measure of north Italian dignity.

The resulting balance between restraint and urgency is compelling, because the performers, you feel, are not out to shock but to search for something new and real Many slow sections have a dreamily rhapsodic feel to them, with Manze’s tone offering the comforting qualities of a warmly glowing fire, while I for one never thought to hear in Corelli the note of mystery that they discover in the final ‘Giga’ of Sonata No 5, or the nocturnal stealth with which they begin No 7. Sonata No 12, the famous ‘La follia’ variations, is dispatched with a powerful mixture of passion and poise. This really is Corelli as you have not heard him before.

The performances reach a high technical standard, as does the recording, which leaves as my only quibble the strangely long gaps left between some of the movements. Manze and Egarr’s main rivals on disc – Elizabeth Wallfisch’s Locatelli Trio and John Holloway’s Trio Veracini – both have interesting things to say too, with the Locatellis’ account perhaps appealing the more for its combination of sweet tone and Baroque elegance. But this vital, ear-opening newcomer is in a category of its own, classic music in a classic – maybe even an epoch-making – recording.

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