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Fanfare 3. review - 5 Stars

August 19, 2023

Colin Clarke

Fanfare 3
5 stars
A remarkable, stunning release; there is nothing to adversely criticise here.
Nothing at all

CORELLIMANIA  Michala Petri1-5,7 (rec); Mahan Esfahani1,2,4-6 (hpd); Hille Perl1-4,5,7 (vdg)  OUR 6.220682 (75:46)
CORELLI 1Sonatas: b, op.3/4; g, op. 5/12, “La Follia”. BACH 2Fugue on a theme by Corelli, BWV 579. 3Four Duets, BWV 802-5 (arr. rec/vbg) . 4Leipziger Coral, “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen,” BWV 658 (arr. rec/hpd/vbg). HANDEL 5Sonata in d, HWV 367. 6Suite in B , HWV 434. TELEMANN 7Sonata Corellisante in A, TWV 42:A5.
A previous disc by this very combination of performers on this label deservedly garnered the very highest praise in these pages: Bach Recorder Sonatas, reviewed in Fanfare 43:3. The present disc deserves equivalent superlatives, not least for its intent: an exploration of Archangelo Corelli and his pretty much all-pervasive influence on the High Baroque.
This review comes only a short time after experiencing gambist Hille Perl live, alongside mandolinist Avi Avital, recorder player Maurice Steger, and keyboardiist Sebastiann Wienand, live on August 4, as part of this year’s Gstaad Menuhin Festival: a concert entitled Bach’s Playlist in the church iat Zweisimmen. The event was a riff on teenage mixtapes, presenting two sequences of arrangements, one from J. S. Bach’s Klavierbüchliein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the other deriving its material from the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach. Throughout, Hille Perl\’s mastery was evident, her confidence never in doubt, her expressivity perfect, her rhythm rock solid. So it is here, in the company of one of the World’s leading harpsichordists, Mahan Esfahani, and surely the World’s leading recorder player, Michala Petri.
It is Corelli who bookends the disc, first his Sonata da Chiesa, op. 3/4 in a performance not just of the combined expertise of these great players, but one of heartbreaking expressivity in the opening Largo. The imitation of the ensuing Vivace seems entirely natural, teh entries perfectly judged both dynamically and rhythmically. More, though, the music seems to unravel, like a flower bud opening to the sun. The gentilité of the Adagio finds Petri and Perl in perfect accord, offering a slow, gallant dance. Petri's final flourishes are perfectly judged. The final Trio Sonata is one of Corelli’s most famous pieces (probably only trumped by the so-called “Christmas Concerto”): the Trio Sonata in G-Minor, op. 5/12, “La Follia”; the theme the source of a million variation sets elsewhere. It is performed here, full of beans, in a version by the composer published in 1702. The present recording contains the gamut of emotions, from cheekiness to real profundity. There are moments of exquisite texture and, retrospectively, virtuosity (Petri and Perl at their finest immediately before the final, charged moments).
The material Bach’s Fugue on a theme of Corelli, BWV 579 comes from the second movement Vivace of the first piece (Corelli’s op. 3/4), heard here on harpsichord first with a counter-subject on viola da gamba. Hearing the Bach fugue played on this combination obviously adds a sense of aural linkage (nice to hear the use of pizzicato on the viola da gamba for texural differentiation, too). Comparing it to the organ original (using David Goode’s performance from his excellent compete set on Signum, performed at the organ of Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge) finds the present arrangement adding an extra layer of vivacity. One hears the players reveling in Bach’s invention. Bach certainly takes Corelli’s idea for a walk: the use of increased ornamentation and the way the note values increase as the piece moves forwards gift the music real trajectory. The linear clarity via recorder, gamba and harpsichord is most impressive, too.
Handel’s Sonata for alto recorder and basso continuo, HWV 367 is heard in a performance of sublime mastery from Petri, Perl and Esfahani, the Vivace second movement sprightly, full of life. Petri’s ornamentation is a joy (Esfahani in his notes refers to this as “clearly a hornpipe in the Purcellian vein”.) The Adagio begins with spellbinding playing from Esfahani; there is an all-pervading peace to the “Alla breve,” while the ensuing Andante is perfectly of its indication in terms of tempo before a light, sprightly Menuetto concludes the Sonata perfectly, its charm and ostensible simplicity masking supreme mastery. Balancing this is the Suite in B flat for harpsichord, in a performance from Esfahani of the utmost freshness, and virtuosity. The projection of Handel’s use of Affekt here is magnificent: we find ourselves in the grip of an ongoing drama for solo keyboard. There are no compromises made for velocity in the next movement: hectic yet not breathless. This Suite has a famous set of variations; and how apt Esfahani’s ornamentations on repeat in the theme itself. The variations appear in the most natural sequence in this performance, the excellent harpsichord (an Italian instrument by German harpsichord Builder Matthias Kremer, 2016) caught in perfect sound, the sense of placement in the sound picture ideal. Esfahani beings a sense of grandeur to this performance, alongside appreciation of Handel’s never-ending invention. The concluding Menuet takes on a lachrymose, moving quality here.
The Four Duets (from Clavierübng III) are performed by recorder and viola da gamba. Somehow this combination only serves to emphasize the somewhat otherworldly strangeness of the first piece (Perl’s phrasing is particularly attractive here). The almost telepathic resonance between the two players is everywhere apparent, but perhaps particularly in the second duet. The whispered confidences of the third lead to the sophisticated fourth piece; the performance is spellbinding throughout.
The gentile perfection of Telemann is just what is needed at this point, a reminder of that composer’s genius, how he can absolutely hold his head up high in the exalted company of Bach. It is clear the performers here realize this also, the opening Largo a dream, the piping Allemande as happy (and rapid) as they come, The Sarabande is so clearly of its dance genre here, but performed at a slightly low dynamic, as if to draw the listener in. Telemann’s sequences, simple though they might be on paper, make maximal effect, with Esfahani’s linking decorations the perfect bridges between phrases. A final Corrente is as light as a soufflé, with some lovely throw-away phrasing from Petri and supreme, technically perfect contributions from Perl.
It is the concentration the players bring to the Bach chorale Was Gott will ich nicht lassen that is so remarkable; a hushed reverence pervades the performance, while each and every line is perfectly projected. The moment fo duet between recorder and single-line harpsichord is pure magic, as if the music is reduced to its barest bones.
A remarkable release that more than succeeds in its aims. It celebrates Corelli and his influence, while providing 76 minutes of performative perfection, all presented to the highest standards and recorded impeccable. There is nothing to adversely ament ze here. Nothing at all. Colin Clarke. 19.August 2023

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