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The Avison Ensemble - Corelli: Opus 5 - MusicWeb International

16 April 2013
MusicWeb International
Brian Wilson

Having recently made a very successful recording of Arcangelo Corelli's Op.6 Concerti grossi (CKD411) 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. 

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. 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. 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.

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. 

There's very little that I can contribute by way of bad news. 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.

A worthy successor to the Avisons' recording of Corelli's Op.6 concerti grossi.

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Related Links

The Avison EnsembleThe Avison Ensemble
Corelli: Opus 5: Violin SonatasCorelli: Opus 5: Violin Sonatas