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Fanfare 2. review - 5 stars

August 18, 2023

Bertil van Boer

5 stars
An absolutely fabulous and absorbing program surrounding the doyen of Baroque Italian composer, Archangelo Corelli

CORELLI Sonata da chiesa in b Op ¾; Sonata in g “La Folia” Op 5/12. BACH Fuga on a Theme by Corelli BWV 579. Leipzig Choralbuch: Chorale Von Gott will ich nicht lassen BWV 658. Duets for recorder and viola da gamba: No. 1 in e BWV 802; No. 2 in F BWV 803; No. 3 in G BWV 804; No. 4 in a BWV 805. HANDEL Sonata in d HWV 367. Suite in B♭HWV 434. TELEMANN Sonata Corellisante No. 2 in A.  Michaela Petri (rec); Hille Perl (vdg); Mahan Esfahani (hpd)  OUR OE 6.220682 (DXD CD 75:46)

One would never have thought that a well-respected but taciturn Roman composer would have achieved such international recognition, let alone become virtually an icon in his own day. But Archangelo Corelli did just that, publishing six sets of works that were not only literal best sellers of the time, but also were the fuel for numerous imitations and “revisions” (and here, the quotation marks cover a multitude of ways that this was done, including the concerti grossi of Charles Avison, and several others). His seminal works were two sets of church sonatas (sonata da chiesa, Op. 1 and 3), two sets of chamber sonatas (sonata da camera, Op. 2 and 4), a set of sonatas for violin and continuo (Op. 5), and a double set of concerti grossi (Op. 6, published posthumously). As we’ve discovered, there is much more to his compositional efforts, but these six sets were considered throughout Europe as models of both style and genre. Differences in the first four sets, which follow the same pattern of pairs of slow plus fast movements, consist of the church sonatas being based upon the use of counterpoint, with sequences, suspensions, close harmonies, and some imitative sections, while the chamber sonatas have their origins in the popular dances of the time. The violin sonatas are, of course, much freer, though they too follow the same structural patters. Corelli was noted for his exquisite sense of harmony and his way of developing his themes, so much so that if one were to pick any composer whose music was both celebrated and influential, he would certainly be a contender.
The Corelli works have been often recorded, so there is no lack of performances in our modern repertory, and one might also note that the Handel works are not strangers to the discography, either. Yet, both the Bach pieces and the Telemann don’t seem to have been the focus, and this is not surprising given that these works must compete with a host of better known, and perhaps more available works by them both. What this trio has done, and it is quite clever and ingenious, is to give them a topical connection, hence the title of this disc Corellimaniana. The second really neat thing about this is that the trio of recorder player Michaela Petri, arguably the best player on this instrument ever, gambist Hille Perl, whose work on the traditional viol repertoire has expanded into new horizons of modernity, and Mahan Esfahani, who is on track to become the “voice” of harpsichord performance practice, interprets Corelli and the others in a manner that is entirely applicable to the Baroque aesthetic, in which there is considerable flexibility in the choice of instruments, of which I daresay every composer of that age would have approved. The performers are not unknown to each other, as, for example, there is a fine recording of the Op. 5 sonatas that both Petri and Esfahani did about eight years ago (and which I still enjoy).
As for the music itself, the B minor Corelli church sonata is the perfect opening. The first Adagio is filled with pensive imitative moments, while the Vivace that follows is a nice bit of gnarly counterpoint, with interpolated suspension and sequencing. The second slow movement is a bit more mincing, while the finale has the appropriate gravitas of imitative sequences and a fluid sense of thematic lyricism. Of course, only Bach would think of taking one of these, a couple of movements from Corelli’s sonata, and turning into an even more complex bit of fugal counterpoint. It is typical of Johann Sebastian, who found that the intertwining melody and harmony of this sonata could be used as a basic outline for his own unique linear style. He still retains the imitative portions of the original but threads them into his own contrapuntal tapestry.
The Handel sonata is one of those with the closest connection to the Roman master, as Esfahani points out. To be sure, Corelli remarked that he didn’t understand the French style of Handel’s opera overture he was conducting, but that also did not mean that Handel could not have understood his Italian style, as the German was quite adept at blending styles. His first movement of the sonata flows lyrically until a half cadence leading to a nicely marching faster movement, with a combination of Corellian imitation between the parts but with a more Italianate stylistic feature. The Furioso that follows scurries about quite operatically with some impressive passagework, only to lead into a slower ament, very much in the Vivaldian mode, but then there is a lighter and more deliberate fugue. The sonata concludes with a rather stolid minuet, a sort of aristocratic moment. The harpsichord suite’s prelude rolls along with a fantasia-like set of arpeggiated figures and decisive chords that leads into cascading figuration and a flurry of passagework. The variation set is almost quite English in its folk-like melody, and then Handel goes ahead and makes some nicely contrasting variations to this staid theme. The final minuet here is most pensive and even a bit dreamy. About the duets, one only has to note that they are atypical of Bach, being quite dissimilar. The E minor duet, for example, is chromatically complex, gnarly, and contrapuntally fluid, more like a couple of organ stops at work. The F major is more Bachian in the traditional sense, with a good set of sequencing, while the G major is more like a cantata aria, with a wonderfully lyrical theme that still has his typical spun-out sequences. With the A minor duet, we are back in the realm of extreme chromaticism, with the lines competing with each other for dominance. These duets are very much in the intellectual vein of Georg Philipp Telemann’s chamber music, complex and yet flowing and tuneful. This is a perfect lead-in to his “Corellian” sonata. There is more Handel than Corelli in the opening Largo, a sort of French style with dotted rhythms, though the imitation is quite Italian. The Allemande is lively and joyous, with quite a virtuoso recorder part that simply twirls about. The Saraband is slow and solemn, but the final Corrente is more like a hornpipe than a normal courante, with as sort of background ostinato ground. I agree with Esfahani that this work is hardly like Corelli, and yet one does hear one of the chamber sonatas lurking in the background, especially in the themes, which Telemann outdoes his putative model. Of course, one cannot escape the finale. The Bach chorale expansion returns us to the world of solemnity. The final La Folia variations remind us that this sort of variation based upon one of the iconic themes of the Italian Baroque was endemic in the music of the time, and here one notes that Corelli’s version from his last sonata of the Op. 5 is perhaps the best of these, with a variety in technical display that goes above and beyond the ordinary.
How does one see the performances. First, it is clear that this setting by the trio falls very nicely into the milieu of the time, a fine sense of balance and fluid performance style that is equal to anything that one might expect from strings alone. In particular, there is a sense of fun, particularly in the Bach duets and Telemann sonata, something we might suspect would have appealed to the Roman composer, who would have appreciated both the performance and instrumental substitutions. The intricacy with which each composer pays homage to Corelli in their idiomatic works would certainly have intrigued him. The highest praise is reserved for the trio. The performances are well phrased and sensitive, with good ensemble and interaction that makes them stand out. This is a must-have disc. It is exquisite and enjoyable, thoughtful and absorbing all at once. My recommendation: get it. Bertil van Boer, August 18.2023

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