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GRAMOPHONE (07/2020)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

This is not announced as Vol 1 of a cycle, but Francesco Corti’s booklet note reveals that it is when he explains that the concertos included here are the ones which ‘benefit most from the sound of a full orchestra – by which he means strings, plus a second harpsichord playing continuo. The next release, he says, will present the ones which work better ‘in a chamber setting’. He doesn’t say what makes him think this way, so we’ll just have to wait for the next disc and use our ears.

Orchestral sound and balance are perennial problems with these pieces, however, and it has to be said that Pentatone’s recording has got it pretty much right, making the harpsichord properly audible without its seeming in a different acoustic from the strings. So that’s a good mark straight away. The performances, too, are fleet, crisp and buoyant; Corti brings the right mix of spontaneity and control to his playing, and his ornamentation, plentiful if not always beautiful, adds much to the music’s high spirits. Meanwhile Il Pomo d’Oro shape their accompaniments with pleasing detail and sensitivity.

Tempos in fast movements are well chosen, motoring but never rushing, and each seemingly chosen on merit – I liked the fact that the first movement of the G minor runs rather than prances, and the way its finale is quick but still substantial. In slow movements, however, speeds are more radical. Corti mentions evidence from treatises of Bach’s time for andantes and sicilianos in particular, so while the dramatic Adagio of the D minor drags, other more galant slow movements bowl along surprisingly. Personally I feel that the G minor’s slow movement works this way but that the E major’s Siciliano loses its dreaminess, the accompaniment poking at the soloist rudely rather than gently nudging him.

There is certainly no lack of life or joy in these attractive performances; but if you don’t appreciate those slow movements, a safer bet for repeated listening among recent cycles might be Fabio Bonizzoni and La Risonanza (Challenge, 9/18, 8/19).

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