The Avison Ensemble - Corelli: Opus 1 & 3 - ClassicsToday.com

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Although the Op. 6 concerti grossi get all the attention on disc, Arcangelo Corelli's Op. 1 and 3 trio sonatas deserve equal respect. And if you're looking for an ensemble and recording that deliver respectful, not to mention reference-quality performances, you'll find them on this excellent new release from The Avison Ensemble.

The rhythms are appropriately-necessarily-taut, the tempos suitably bright and compatible with their particular movements, the bowed-instrument timbres delightfully tangy and reedy, the plucked strings of the archlute pleasingly snappy. Sonically, the result is a vibrant, full-bodied quality that really lets us feel the special harmonic resonances, particularly scintillating in keys such as F, A, D, and G major (sound clip).

Adhering primarily to the structural formula Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast, Corelli seems to possess an unlimited capacity for invention, especially in the way he so engagingly writes for the two violins, separately but equally in dialogue or sometimes in uniform rhythm, and joined by the cello either in imitation or with a line of its own (sound clip). Hearing these sets of sonatas it's easy to understand why they were so widely popular-"remaining in print throughout the 18th century"-and were so stylistically influential and freely imitated.

If you're a violinist, you really want to play them, as they are so perfectly conceived for that instrument, so irresistibly fun and fanciful, musically and technically substantive; and for the listener, it's hard to imagine more agreeable ensemble writing, highlighted by the ever-stimulating conversational interplay. Beyond the trio of primary players, The Avison Ensemble keeps the continuo interesting with a combination of archlute, harpsichord, and organ, and the sound, from a Cambridge church, is representative of this label's best. There are a few other recordings of these works, but in all respects, this one just does it better.

20 May 2014