from the harpsichord by Pieter-Jan Belder – Brilliant Classics
Multichannel SACD (2) 92610, 66:11 & 64:15, ****:
These masterpieces of the concerto grosso form are considered the last
major works from the composer and were actually published a year after
his death, but some of the various concertos originated much earlier.
Corelli was not the originator of the concerto grosso form, in which a
small concertino of solo instruments (a quartet in this case) is pitted
against the larger orchestra. But he certainly brought the form to a
high level of perfection in this collection. His entire output
was extremely slim compared to Bach and Vivaldi, so musical posterity
is fortunate to have these great works at least.
Observers at the time were surprised at the large size of Corelli’s
main orchestra – as many as 40 musicians, expanded for special
ceremonial occasions to even 70 or 80, similar to a modern symphony
orchestra. The concertino section for this performance consists of two
violins, cello and archlute. Most of the concertos have five movements
of contrasting tempi. The best known of the dozen is of course the
Christmas Concerto No. 8 in G Minor, one of the loveliest examples of
instrumental music of the holiday season.
Comparing with my previous favorite recorded version of the concerti, I
brought out the Harmonia mundi double-CD set by Ensemble 415. I was
struck by how great the standard CDs sounded in relation to the
multichannel SACDs, but they did lack the wide soundstage and more
precise spatial location of the concertino instruments. Adding Pro
Logic II to the CDs aided the soundstage but began to show up the more
transparent reproduction of the SACDs. The subtle hall ambience in the
surround channels doesn’t let on it is there, but muting it dumps the
sound to a rather flat frontal image. Moreover, the Amsterdam-based
Musica Amphion struck more active tempos in most of the movements, and
sounded like a larger ensemble than Ensemble 415. I think I would
put my money on the Brilliant version even it wasn’t in hi-res surround.
– John Sunier