Label : Brilliant
Format : Flac (image + cue)
Cover : Yes
Consolidated box sets carry the advantage of a uniform musical perspective when the performers remain consistent. Such is the case here when they’re drawn from the Dutch-based original instrument ensemble Musica Amphion. Founded and led by harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder the players form part of that constant pool of baroque instrument talent to be found in Holland. The recording project to set down Corelli’s instrumental and concerted music occupied the group over the summer of 2004 and the results are here in ten well-filled discs housed in a typical Brilliant box.
Naturally competition is severe and the question is to what extent the newcomers measure up. Their main rivals in the earlier works will be London Baroque and the Purcell Quartet but older established admirers of the Opp. 1 and 2 set will remember the English Consort’s recordings with pleasure as well. The older recordings presented a more homogenous blend tonally speaking and London Baroque take a more pliant and expressive route to the Dutch ensemble. The group derived from Musica Amphion and led by Rémy Baudet is rather more astringent and their rhythms aren’t quite as engaged as are the other groups’. In the second movement Allegro of Op.1 in F major for example the English Concert were that much more buoyant. Take the A major from the same set, No.3. The organ is quite prominent in the newcomer’s recording but whilst the tempo is more static than in the English recordings the cello line is boldly projected. Entry points are explicitly delineated in the first movement of Op.1 No.7 – but turn back to the imaginative voicings of the English Consort and you’ll hear canny deployment of the theorbo; the Dutch players opt to submerge colouristic potential.
They don’t inflect as much as their English contemporaries and certainly not nearly as much as the older English recording; they’re straighter in Op.2 than the competition. If you take Op.2 No.6 for example you’ll find them, I think, rather faceless. Of course in projects of this kind there’s bound to be a degree of routine but there are rather too many moments of this kind hereabouts. Their phrasal bluntness does become a matter of routine as well and the sense of direct speaking militates against sensitive exploration of colour and tone. The same kind of relationship exists when it comes to the Op.5 Violin Sonatas between Baudet, ter Linden, Fentross and Belder from Musica Amphion and the Manze/Egarr team on Harmonia Mundi or the Monica Huggett led Sonnerie on Virgin. Manze goes in for great dynamic gradients and a rich panoply of expression; Huggett tends to be more robust and has exercised different editorial imperatives from Manze, employing a continuo group as does Musica Amphion. Manze and Egarr stand alone and they’re consistently the slowest performances of the three. In the C minor, No.3, we find Huggett et al have a far greater degree of colour and articulation than Musica Amphion and that their phraseology is that much freer and more natural. It doesn’t help that the Dutch recording is quite chilly and tends towards over brightness but I think that really only amplifies or exacerbates the tonal qualities of the band. Musica Amphion are clearly closer to Sonnerie throughout; maybe lighter in texture though considerably more astringent, not least because Huggett often cultivates an almost viola-like depth of tone.
In short, when it comes to Op.5 Musica Amphion lacks those qualities of graceful phrasing, care over nuance, clarity of trills and tonal expression that are exemplified by the two other groups cited. Certainly some may argue that Manze can be just a shade too perfumed and ostentatiously expressive but his ornaments are a delight (try the opening of No.10 in F major where he is unsurpassed) and the affecting intimacy he cultivates is astounding. The Dutch band doesn’t over-ornament but they do tend, as a result, to sound rather penny plain judged against such imaginative responses.
The Concerto Grossi, with the full band, are more impressive than the earlier sets. I actually much prefer them to, say, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan whose dutiful tidiness is shown up by these colourful Dutch traversals. The Brandenburg Consort under Roy Goodman are pretty much among the pack leaders as are Europa Galante under Fabio Biondi (Hyperion and Harmonia Mundi respectively) and these Dutch performances don’t really challenge that hegemony. But I very much liked the real sense of vibrancy they evoke in, for example, the Pastorale-largo of the Eighth Concerto. And in the slow movement of the Ninth and Tenth I sense the kind and degree of colour and expression that were lacking in the earlier sonatas; it’s as if the ensemble can do what the consort can’t, which is a pity.
The other, smaller works are certainly competently done, with the same cavils still applying. To reprise; the recording quality is chilly and somewhat abrasive, the performances in the main part somewhat under-inflected though thoroughly professional. The price is ludicrously cheap but if it was me I’d take London Baroque in the earlier set, Manze in Op.5 (with a back-up; his are sometimes idiosyncratic solutions) and Goodman and Biondi in the Concerti Grossi (they’re very different and both are thoroughly recommendable). You won’t go terribly wrong with this box – but you will seldom feel any kind of frisson. And in the end that’s what Corelli should make you feel.
Tracklist : Corelli – Complete Works