The first of a series of performances of Corelli’s published works, his op. 6 Concerti Grossi, was released by Linn Records in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of the composers death. In April of this year, the last in the series, Corelli’s op. 1 and op. 3 trio sonatas came out, and in between, listeners were treated to Corelli’s seminal op. 5 violin sonatas, and the op. 2 and op. 4 sonatas da camera. All have been a joy to listen to. The complete works of Corelli…it’s been a while since such a project was undertaken, and a fresh recording of Corelli’s music is very welcome.
The opus 6 concertos are scored for a concertino set of soloists, doubled and reinforced by an additional group of ripieno players. In many ways, the concerti are enhanced trio sonatas, a genre for which Corelli composed for most prolifically.
In the past few decades there have been numerous recordings of these works. Manze and Egarr’s comes to mind. But here we have another.
One thing that the Avison Ensemble explores in their version is the varied use of continuo. The question of what continuo instruments are appropriate for Corelli’s op. 5 has long been experimented with. The title page of the original publications reads “sonatas for ‘Violino e violone o cembali’.” Just cello or just harpsichord seem to be what’s indicated. But then questions arise: what instrument exactly did Corelli mean by “violone?”
If indeed it was the cello, should the cellist also realize figures and play chords when possible? And what about using a bowed bass and a harpsichord? Would that have been appropriate?
And what about the performance practice of adding other plucked continuo instruments like lute or theorbo or guitar, or other keyboard instruments like the organ?
The Avison Ensemble tries many of these continuo permutations with Roger Hamilton playing harpsichord and organ, Paula Chateauneuf on archlute and guitar, and Richard Tunnicliffe playing cello–but not usually all at the same time!
The ornamentation in the sonatas was added by Beznosiuk himself. Many of Corelli’s contemporaries made ornamented versions of the sonatas too; there is one edition of ornaments printed in Amsterdam in 1710 that became famous for supposedly being Corelli’s own, even though they probably weren’t.
Other admirers added not only ornamentation in slow movements but variations in fast ones, like the 18th-century Englishman Matthew Dubourg, who added material to Corelli’s 11th sonata. Following in his footsteps, Beznosiuk adds his own voice to the mix with newly composed variations on the gavotta from the Sonata in F major, Op. 5, No. 10.
Sonatas da Camera and Sonatas da Chiesa
The two most recent releases in the Avison Ensemble’s series are both devoted to Corelli’s trio sonatas, which are divided into two types: the sacred da chiesa ‘church’ form or the secular da camera ‘chamber’ form.
The church vs. chamber sonatas have less to do with where they were performed than the form in which they were composed. Like the gavotte we just heard, the da camera sonatas are made up of a series of dance movements—allemende, sarabande, corrente, bouree, gigue and so on. Church sonatas, on the other hand, are generally four movements of alternating slow and fast tempos, often containing fugal or imitative sections.
Listening to the Avison Ensemble reminds us that slow movements don’t need excessive ornamentation to be effective, but just enough to add interest and beauty without becoming obtrusive, and that fast movements need not teeter on the edge to impress. The energy is bursting yet at the same time held, and always there is an essentially vocal lyricism that underlies the playing in these recordings.
There are already many wonderful collections of Corelli’s chamber music recorded, like those by the Purcell Quartet, the New Dutch Academy, The English Concert, Accademia Bizantina, Musica Amphion, London Baroque and many others—but the Avison Ensemble adds something special and solid to the mix, and its worth hearing.