The Avison Ensemble - Corelli: Opus 6 - SA-CD.net
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) published relatively few compositions during his lifetime - in fact the Opus 6 Concerti Grossi were brought out a year after his death-but his influence over composers of the late Baroque Era was unprecedented. Many of the techniques we associate more with others, such as the chains of melodic sequences at the heart of so many Vivaldi concerti, were more likely his inventions. He also made extensive use of suspensions, those sweetly dissonant combinations of tones formed when the harmony shifts under a sustained note.
These concerti feature a solo trio of two violins and cello, accompanied and augmented by a string orchestra (here 3/3/2/1/1) and continuo, including both keyboards - harpsichord or organ - and archlute, beautifully played by Roger Hamilton and Paula hateauneuf respectively. Some of the concerti are scored so simply that they could in fact be played by the solo trio alone, but even the simplest pieces gain some depth and varied shading from the alteration of solo passages with ritornelli, antiphonal exchanges, and echoes from the full ensemble.
The well-established Avison Ensemble employs period instruments, and their performances of the entire cycle are quite sensitive: meltingly lyrical in the slow movements and full of life in the faster ones. They also embellish when appropriate, but it is worth noting that Corelli conceived this as ensemble music, and as such it does not offer the sorts of opportunities for solo display, including wholesale improvisation, that abound in the solo sonatas. Nevertheless the transitions between movements, the cadential trills, and the occasional repetitions that lend themselves to ornamentation are handled with considerable skill - and not just by leader Pavlo Beznosiuk but also by Mr. Hamilton at the Loosemore box organ, for example.
The recording seems near-ideal to me. It offers a resonant church acoustic, more wood than stone, that supports the low strings without ever swamping the vivid sound of the violins and violas. There is a nice "spread" to the orchestral layout, and one is always able to distinguish easily between the solo trio and the whole group. One remains conscious of the continuo players' contributions
throughout, but they are never mixed too far forward in the presentation.
This music charms by its simplicity, which is only further enhanced through the seasoned musicianship of the Avison Ensemble. Strongly recommended.