These dozen baroque violin sonatas, published in 1700, were considered among the most important such music at the time and are still felt by musicologists to be a high point in the development of the violin sonata. Charles Burney reported that all good schools of the violin were founded upon them. Though not played today as much as in the 18th century, they remain a model of writing for the violin.
The first six of the sonatas are da chiesa or church sonatas, meaning they eschew any of the dance forms and have fugal second movements of the five movements in each sonata. The next five sonatas are chamber sonatas, with preludes and dance form movements such as Corrente, Sarabanda, Gavotta and Giga. The very last sonata is a tour de force of variation form, and the longest of all the sonatas. Subtitled “Follia,” it makes 24 variations on the simple Iberian theme La Follia, which has captivated many different composers. It explores a wide spectrum of different violin techniques, almost as a teaching piece.
Corelli published these works subtitled as for violin and cello or harpsichord. There has been a trend in early music toward using larger basso continuo groupings. In their 2002 recording for Harmonia mundi Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr confined themselves to just the violin and harpsichord, feeling that it freed them from harmonic shackles and allowed for more interesting ornamentation which was such a prominent practice in music performance of the period. The new recording – which was actually recorded back in 2002 – expands the basso continuo with four additional instruments: a second violin, a “piccolo cello,” an archlute and a pipe organ. Harpsichordist Ottavio Dantone conducts from his keyboard. Perhaps I am being swayed by the addition of surround sound in the Arts recording, but I prefer the fuller and richer sound of the large continuo forces. My only complaint is that the solo violin sounds just a bit too full – stretched across all three of my frontal speakers in fact. Manze contributes some wonderful ornamentation which sounds very authentic and is well-recorded for the standard CD format, but the more impressive sound of the new issue remind me more of Corelli’s Opus 6 Concerti grossi with their larger instrumentation. Your choice may well lean in the other direction depending on individual taste.
– John Sunier