Chamber Sonatas Opus 2 & 4
The Avison Ensemble
Pavlo Beznosiuk (director & violin), Caroline Balding (violin), Paula Chateauneuf (archute & guitar), Richard Tunnicliffe (cello), Roger Hamilton (harpsichord & organ)
2 CDs on Linn Records, CKD 413. Also available to download - Studio Master | CD Quality | MP3
'The Avison Ensemble continue their stunning Corelli anniversary recording project ... beautifully understated, and allowing the music to speak for itself.'
Julie Anne Sadle, 10 October 2013
Third instalment of the Avison's Corelli sonatas series. The Avison Ensemble continue their stunning Corelli anniversary recording project with two of the less-often-recorded opuses, the sonate da camera. These performances occupy fresh ground - intimately styled and seemingly less obviously inspired by public performance than previous recordings. The two collections, published in Rome in 1685 and 1694, set the standard for the flowering of trio sonatas throughout Europe that followed. Miniature in scale, each movement is finely crafted - no doubt performed many times before being made available to the public in final form. Corelli was nothing if not a perfectionist.
Pavlo Beznosiuk and the Avison Ensemble have clearly given much thought and attention to their performances: beautifully understated, and allowing the music to speak for itself. The tempi are relaxed without compromising a sense of line, imparting instead a breadth that suggests to us an expression of Corelli's life and times (the Avison's Ciaconna, Op 2 No 12, is 48 seconds longer than that of the Purcell Quartet's - Chandos, 6/92). Certainly for the duration of many tracks - the Preludes of Op 4 Nos 4 and 9, for example - past and present seem to merge.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this recording is the Avison's careful attention to ensemble textures and timbres. Others before them have experimented with the continuo forces but rarely with such effect. Paula Chateauneuf's archlute solo accompaniments contribute enormously to the intimacy and stylishness of the recording (Op 2 No 6's Corrente and Op 4 No 7's Grave), and add gentle percussion when appropriate (Op 2 No 11's closing Giga). Even better, though, are the tracks with cello and archlute, which include the second and fourth sonatas and the final Ciaccona of Op 2.
Walking and running basses, though, are best allocated to the cello. Richard Tunnicliffe's solo cello accompaniments enable a homogeneous bowed string sound, as in Op2 No 5 and Op 4 No 8, which in its simplicity sounds almost modern. More often the cello combines with harpsichord or organ (the Prelude of Op 4 No 4 is a jewel), providing a firm bass for the suspensions between the violins (the first two movements of Op 2 No 7) and freeing the cello to participate in points of imitation with the violins (the Corrente of Op 4 No 1).
We look forward to the imminent release of Opp 1 and 3.
BBC Music Magazine
'The Avison Ensemble captures their essence in graceful, finely controlled performances – by turns lyrical, fleet, playful, imbued with an effortless style.'
Kate Bolton, November 2013
Corelli’s Trio Sonatas were cited as ‘models of perfection’ for decades after his death 300 years ago. They enjoyed particular success in early 18th-century England among the many dilettante instrumentalists, prompting Roger North to remark, ‘What a scratching of Corelli there is everywhere’. The Avison Ensemble continues the Anglo-Italian rapport – without a trace of ‘skratching’ – in this project to record all of Corelli’s instrumental works. The series so far has produced fine accounts of the Concerti Grossi Op. 6 and the Violin Sonatas Op. 5 (reviewed respectively in March and April).
The latest two-disc set features the Trio Sonata collections Opp. 2 and 4, kaleidoscopic works that mingle vigorous and elegant dances, hypnotic variations like the ‘Ciaconna’ that concludes the Op. 2 set, ornamental slow movements, capricious Allegros and more series fugal writing. For all their stylistic variety, these works are characterised throughout by an exquisite finesse, apt for the papal court in which they were first heard.
The Avison Ensemble captures their essence in graceful, finely controlled performances – by turns lyrical, fleet, playful, imbued with an effortless style that eschews mannerisms and fireworks but rather lets the music speak for itself. The string sound is silky and clean; the ensemble neat and subtly articulated. With its potential for surround sound, Linn’s airy recording suggests the spacious marble chambers and churches of Corelli’s Rome.
'A masterclass in Baroque string playing. Violinists Pavlo Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding give poised, idiomatic accounts ...'
Robin Stowell, 24 September 2013
A masterclass in Baroque string playing. Volume 3 of the Avison Ensemble’s chamber music extravaganza commemorating the 300th anniversary of Corelli’s death focuses on the 24 Chamber Sonatas opp.2 and 4. These works demonstrate the full gamut of Corellian gestures which, clichéd though many may seem, occasionally venture beyond the predictable.
Violinists Pavlo Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding give poised, idiomatic and mostly unanimous accounts, matching each other like twins in passages of imitation and dialogue and pliant phrasing. Only occasionally are there hints of untidiness at the beginnings of some correntes. Their tempos are generally well judged and they supply extempore ornamentation in tasteful doses. They revel in the suspensions and harmonic adventure of the preludios and capture the character of these sonatas’ relatively conservative range of dances. Highlights for me include the Allemanda of op.2 no.10 with its trumpet-like fanfares, the imitative Corrente of op.4 no.2, the expressive Sarabanda of op.2 no.2, the rousing Gavotta of op.4 no.9 (with its resemblances to the penultimate movement of the composer’s Christmas Concerto op.6 no.8), the Ciaccona of op.2 no.12 and the countless lively gigas. Of those movements not inspired by dance, the intense Adagio of op.2 no.3, played here with only lute accompaniment, and the Grave of op.4 no.9 are especially effective.
Variation of textural colour is provided largely by ringing the continuo changes between the harpsichord, organ and archlute. Occasionally, too, the gamba is tacet or plays without continuo ‘filler’. Additional sonority is gained from adoption of late 17th-century Roman pitch (about a tone lower than modern pitch). The church recording has exemplary immediacy and presence.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Andrew McGregor and Simon Heighes, 5 October 2013
'Corelli was a modest guy. He was not a flash fiddler. He was a chamber, he was a team player rather than a fabulous soloist. And there is a sense in which the Avison Ensemble have picked up on that. I find, although we started with a dance which was nicely ornamented, the Avison Ensemble leave it pretty plain on the whole. It’s all about gestures, it’s all about line, all about simple textures, there’s not too much complication here, and it’s all very gentle. I really like it, they’re tapping into this 18th century Georgian way of playing Corelli, where if you wanted to get into a concert, you brought your violin or cello along and you played because Corelli was simple enough for everyone to enjoy and for everyone to sight read. And of course they became so well known everyone knew them anyway. And there is a sense in which the Avison Ensemble really do bring that back. I think it’s this kind of English love for the simplicity of the music. They’re not over complicating it ...'
'The Avison Ensemble are very respectful, they don’t apologise for the simplicity of the music. We don’t want too many extraneous improvisations that we have to listen to time and time again.’
‘It is very beautiful. A lovely recording as well.’ ‘Beautiful. Very clear. Absolutely transparent.’
'... the virtues of the Avison group are once again on full display here; the players achieve a sparkling liveliness that few other groups seem to manage with period strings.'
James Manheim, 09 September 2013
The ongoing recordings of Arcangelo Corelli's music by the Avison Ensemble and Ukrainian-British violinist-leader, Pavlo Beznosiuk, all have something to recommend them. With this double-disc set the group covers Corelli's two published sets of "chamber sonatas," a direct translation of the Italian "sonate da camera." The term denoted a suite-like structure of multiple short dances or other binary movements rather than a specific set of forces. Corelli himself published them as "sonate a tre," or sonatas for three instruments. The booklet notes by Simon D.I. Fleming here go to great lengths to justify performance with four instruments, as doubtless occurred often in the 18th century.
What you get here, however, is something else: performance with five instruments, the violins of Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding, plus cello, archlute, and harpsichord or organ. This is a very big and active continuo group, and its presence is further heightened by the improvisatory fills of all the players, especially cellist Richard Tunnicliffe. This is not right or wrong, although it seems a bit daring in music specifically designated as being for three instruments. The effect is to push the music in the direction of a chamber group for equals rather than a dialogue of two soloists. And Corelli was nothing if not a soloistic composer. You may like it or not, but the virtues of the Avison group are once again on full display here; the players achieve a sparkling liveliness in the fast movements that few other groups seem to manage with period strings.
The church sound is overresonant but at least has the virtue of not distorting the unexpectedly complex textures. You may want to give this a try even if you prefer a more minimal continuo style; it's beautifully done, and who knows, Beznosiuk could turn out to be right.
'... performed with the utmost skill by five of the finest Baroque players of today.'
Dave Billinge, 21 October 2013
These two sets of twelve trio sonatas are performed here by two violins, cello and either harpsichord or archlute. The title 'trio' refers to the three melody instruments to which was conventionally added a second continuo instrument, the cello being the first. The majority of Corelli's works were trio sonatas. Four sets of these were published.
The current sets Op. 2 and Op. 4 were called Sonata da camera, chamber sonatas, because they all contained dances such as allemands, courantes and gigues. The two other sets, Op. 1 and Op. 3 were called Sonata da chiesa, church sonatas, and they conventionally contained few dances and much more by way of abstract forms like fugues. The distinction between the two is always somewhat blurred and the 'wrong' forms sometimes appear within particular sonatas. Corelli's remaining two sets of works are the Op. 5 Violin Sonatas and the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi.
He was one of the greatest composers of the Baroque period and one can understand why contemporary writer and musician Roger North described his work as 'immortal'. 'Nothing will relish but Corelli' he once wrote. Corelli was certainly very influential in the spread of the trio sonata, an influence felt by Vivaldi, Bach, Telemann and Handel to name just the first rank. Even at the end of the 18th Century, decades after his death, Charles Burney was able to report that some saw Corelli as a 'model of perfection'.
Time spent with these chamber sonatas, performed with the utmost skill by five of the finest Baroque players of today, is time well spent. To hear the intertwining lines spun by the violins of Pavlo Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding is to suspend worldly cares. The frequency with which the music was reprinted all over Europe, especially Italy, France and England, is testimony to the veneration in which Corelli was held.
Having worked for Cardinal Ottoboni for most of his later life, Corelli rose to be not a musician-as-servant but a respected friend of his patron, in whose palace he lived for many years. Thus he mixed in the highest society and gained status as performer and teacher as well as composer. There seems to have been genuine sadness at his passing and he was buried with high honours in the Pantheon in Rome: a very different story indeed to that of Vivaldi and later Mozart.
Linn's recording of this beautiful music is well nigh perfect: every instrumental line is clear and placed within a natural acoustic. Combined with a set of well written and informative notes by Simon Fleming, this pair of SACDs sells itself. Linn have now recorded Corelli's complete published oeuvre with The Avison Ensemble. I would advise finding space on your shelf for all of them.
Audio Video Club of Atlanta
'The interaction among these musicians is simply breathtaking ...'
Phil Muse, 01 December 2013
This is the third of four projected releases by Beznosiuk and the Avison ensemble on the 300th anniversary of the death of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). The selections for the tribute were easy to determine because Corelli, the most perfectionist of composers, only published six opuses in his lifetime, and there has been absolutely no spate of spurious claims or rediscoveries in the centuries afterwards. What Corelli had to say in music, he said concisely and for all time. In fact, he was recognized as a 'classic' in his own time, and his reputation since then has not suffered the usual periods of neglect that plague almost every other composer.
The present release represents Corelli's chamber sonata (sonata da camera) style, Opus numbers 2 and 4. As distinct from the church sonata (sonata da chiesa), the chamber sonata incorporated frequent dance-inspired movements that would have been thought inappropriate for a sacred setting. That is not to say that there are no vestiges of Corelli's chiesa style in the 12 sonatas found in this program, particularly in the glorious solemnity of the opening movements, usually a Preludio marked 'Adagio' or 'Lento'. Even when the opening is an Allemanda, normally an energetic dance of German origin (as the name indicates), it is slow and stately.
Corelli's chamber sonatas are 'trio Sonatas,' typically performed by two violins in in the upper parts plus a cello or bass viol and a chordal instrument, usually a harpsichord, organ, or lute, for the purpose of realizing the underlying bass. They are in the pattern of a Preludio, followed by a short suite of two or three dances: Corrente, Gavotta, Sarabanda, Allemanda, or Giga, in various combinations. When the Allemanda is found in the second or a subsequent position, it is much faster than when it functions as a prelude. Even more strikingly, the Sarabanda, normally a slow, often sensual, dance, is often played at a quicker tempo, especially in the Opus 4 set, where Corelli allows himself more freedom in the way he constructs his sonatas. Consequently, his audiences were kept alert, not knowing what to expect next.
The upshot of all this is that Corelli's chamber sonatas are far from cookie-cutter designs, and they require the sort of rhythmically incise attention, with added care as to tempi and style, that the Avison Ensemble give them in these recordings. The performers are Pavlo Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding, violinists; Richard Tunnicliffe, cello; Paula Chateauneuf, archlute; and Roger Hamilton, harpsichord and organ. The interaction among these musicians is simply breathtaking at times, as in the Allemanda of Opus 2, No. 3 in which the first violin and bass parts descend together in parallel fifths (a type of movement that the bluestockings of Corelli's day considered lascivious. How times have changed!)