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The Avison Ensemble - Concerti Grossi, Opus 6 - Music Web International


01 November 2012
Music Web International
Brian Wilson

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 from a Supraphon LP of five or six of them played (as I recall) by ArsRediviva, a group who, despite their impressive Latinate title, were much less in tune with the music of this period than the Avison Ensemble, 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 Brandenburg Concertos and FourSeasons. 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.

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, notleast from me:

- CKD362: Handel Concerti Grossi, Op.6/1-12 - Download of the Month: July 2010

- CKD365: Vivaldi Concerti, Op.8/1-12

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, Krcek 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. 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 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 have recently kindly supplied me with both SACD and 24/96 download versions of three of their recent recording and, though this Corelli set was not among them, and I've heard only the SACD, I have no doubt that the downloads, especially the 24-bit versions, are equally recommendable.

The best news of all is that this 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 to follow. The new set stands as a strong alternative for those looking for SACD.


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