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  40:1 (09-10 /2016)
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Reviewer: Robert Maxham

The second volume of Enrico Onofri’s collection with the Imaginarium Ensemble of Arcangelo Corelli’s Violin Sonatas, op. 5 (I urgently recommended the first volume in Fanfare 37:6) again mixes presents of the sonatas da chiesa (No. 6, No. 4, No. 2) and three of those da camera (No. 12, “La Follia”; No. 8; and No. 11). Onofri discusses in his booklet notes his choice of ornaments, in which he attempts to avoid ones overly studied (reading prewritten ornaments either printed by Estienne Roger or originally drawn from his own imagination) or, on the other hand, inspirations of the moment, which might prove too ephemeral in their appeal for a permanent record. He and the ensemble (including a cello, guitar, archlute, theorbo, harpsichord, and organ) have adopted a very low A (at 390), which he believes corresponds to the pitch of Roman organs of the period. He plays upon an anonymous early 18th-century violin.

Onofri opens his program with “La Follia,” with which Corelli brought his celebrated set of sonatas to a close. Onofri lifts the bow from the string after the first note of each phrase, imparting to the theme an uncommon lilt, though the low pitch and the massive sound of the continuo keep it firmly connected to the earth. Nevertheless, Onofri’s and the Ensemble’s virtuosity and fancy in the rapid variations, and his lyricism in the slower ones, provide continual pleasure—and might provide even more without the occasional nasal commentary. However strong Onofri’s sense of adventure, the music remains as stately and transcendentally geometric as Corelli’s musical personality demands. It’s been suggested that the variation commonly associated with the messa di voce might be ornamented with florid passaggi, but Onofri keeps it simple. A generous, loud gulp precedes the first movement of Sonata No. 6 in A Major, but the Grave itself sounds lyrically pure (Onofri cites Francesco Geminiani’s remark that Corelli produced the timbre of a “sweet trumpet”) and the succeeding Allegro brisk. In fact, nothing in the sonata sounds so academic as the fugal and étude-like movements themselves might suggest, while the da camera Sonata in E Minor sounds as insinuating in its way as does Mozart’s in the same key—Onofri plays individual works rather than types of works. More figured ornamentation appears in the opening movement of Sonata No. 4 in F Major, with Onofri’s double-stops as sprightly as his passagework in the succeeding fugal movement. His flowing cantabile in the fourth movement and his natural sense of musical rhetoric leave a particularly strong impression before the final Allegro brings the sonata to its bracing conclusion. The opening movement of the Second Sonata, in B♭ Major also comes richly robed in ornamentation; and the fugal movement that follows again carries the listener along with its heady momentum. The collection closes with the Sonata No 8 in E Major, an elegant sonata da camera that sounds almost gallant in the combination of a simple melody and its chattering accompaniment in its second movement. At least, the Onofri and the Ensemble play it that way.

In reviewing the first volume of Onofri’s set, I expressed a preference for Elisabeth Zethuen Schneider’s readings of the works with the Trio Corelli on Bridge 9371A/B (Fanfare 36:2) over such commanding, individual readings as those by Andrew Manze (Harmonia Mundi 907298.99, Fanfare 26:5), strongly imaginative ones by John Holloway on Novalis 150-128 (Fanfare 20:3), and tart ones by François Fernandez on Naxos 8.557799 (Fanfare 31:2), but thought that Onofri’s set would stand with it. The completion of Onofri’s set cements that preference. Urgently recommended.

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