Corelli: Violin Sonatas, Op. 5

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Corelli
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Violin Sonatas, Op. 5
PERFORMER: Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907298-99
On the face of it, nothing could be simpler than these 12 sonatas from 1700 – two bare lines, solo violin and bass. But questions arise even from the title, for ‘Violino e [and] Violone o [or] Cimbalo’. Trio Veracini (Novalis) interprets this as violin either with cello playing both bass line and in-filling harmony, or with harpsichord. My previous benchmark, the Locatelli Trio (Hyperion), uses both cello and keyboard, with organ for the first six sonatas, recognising their church sonata roots, and harpsichord thereafter. To confuse matters further, an edition of 1710 included amazingly florid ornamentation, supposedly by Corelli himself, of 12 of the slow movements. But actually to play these is to contradict the very spirit of spontaneous decoration.

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Manze and Egarr confront both these issues head on: using the minimum number of performers frees them from harmonic or rhythmic shackles; and they improvise ornaments and cadenzas spontaneously (even if the mere fact of recording freezes the performance). Technically, the recording is spacious, and carefully timed atmospheric silences between movements add to the drama.

The result is a complete reappraisal of this seminal collection: slow movements range from heartrendingly unaffected sound, often over ringingly sustained keyboard broken chords, through an inexhaustible palette of subtle sonorities, to gigantic violin gestures, matched by harpsichord octaves. Many fast movements are rhythmically taut, others hugely dramatic, with cadenzas stretched to their very limit. The final ‘Follia’ variations display more colours than you would ever believe could be drawn from a Baroque violin plus harpsichord – the intensity of the ending is awe-inspiring.

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Quite simply – outstanding.