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Fanfare Magazine: 37:4 (03-04/2014) 
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Reviewer: Robert Maxham


Amandine Beyer’s notes refer to Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerti grossi as the “bread of life”; and considering the influence they wielded in the years following their appearance, the epithet seems particularly apt. She and Gli Incogniti mix the works up a bit, often alternating concertos da chiesa (the first eight in the collection) and da camera (the last four) and interspersing two other works not included in the composer’s first six numbered collections: the Sinfonia, WoO 1 and the Sonata, WoO 2.

The performance opens with the fanfare-like dotted rhythms of op. 6/7 in D Major, a bracing introduction to two-odd hours of music making—and an auspicious one as well, given the ensemble’s crisp, though hardly desiccated, timbres and invigorating rhythmic buoyancy in the fast sections. The concertino group (in this case, violinists Amandine Beyer and Helena Zemanova) darts in and out of the Corelli’s satin textures creating silvery highlights, neither blending inauspiciously nor jolting listeners with stark contrasts. The ensemble concertino emerges more aggressively in the Allemanda of op. 6/9; and the following movement, a spirited Corrente, retains its snap even though the ensemble eschews strong, crunchy accentuation. The final minuet seems smoothly and elegantly homogenized, although the ensemble never loses sight of the movement’s gestural dance. In the Sinfonia, WoO 1 (written for performance with the oratorio Santa Beatrice d’Este), the ensemble gives greater prominence to the metric stresses in the fast movements, and the harpsichord part shimmers over the second movement’s slow conclusion. The first movement of op. 6/4 features extended, almost sonata-like running figuration; and Beyer once again plays jauntily, yet without communicating any sense of self-aggrandizing virtuosity. She and the ensemble bring a similar élan to the last movement, even while refraining from electric-like staccato articulation (yet they’re hardly deaf to colorful nuance, as the concluding passage’s frothy peroration illustrates). Their stately reading of the Sarabanda that serves as the fifth movement of op. 6/11 makes an intriguing pair with the following sprightly Giga. Once again in the fugal opening of the second movement of op. 6/2, Beyer and the ensemble show that they can achieve vigor almost paradoxically through an accumulation of subtleties. And their somewhat deliberate playing in the Finale demonstrates how excitement can be sustained without supercharged tempos. The first disc ends with op. 6/8, the “Christmas Concerto.” The group’s very quick Vivace at the opening nevertheless doesn’t sound abrupt or peremptory; and they’ve laid out the outer sections of the third movement and its embedded fast section with a spaciousness that suggests eternity rather than any time-bound trend in performance practice, though nobody should accuse the ensemble of a lack of authenticity. In the last fast movement, Beyer and the ensemble impart a smart, quasi-improvisational fillip to impel the music forward. Applause follows the Pastorale—the only telltale trace left on the first disc of the live recording (the booklet notes that the ensemble later recorded patches on February 11–13).

The second disc begins with a commanding performance of op. 6/5, but it’s a fleet-footed one, too. Beyer adds very discreet improvisation in the second movement to grease the passagework’s skids, and plays the final movement’s staccatos with an especially light bow-stroke. The second disc also interlards a less frequently played bonus, in this case, the Sonata a quattro, WoO 2, a five-movement work closer in style perhaps to the contrapuntal da chiesa model, though the second movement sounds closer to dotted, ouverture-like ones. A bit of sound (perhaps from music stands) between movements may remind listeners once again that these performances took place before a live audience rather than in a studio. Beyer and the ensemble allow the central Grave almost to reach stasis before strong rhythmic verve revives the Presto to vigorous life. Op. 6/10 follows, bringing a blocky but exceptionally tangy performance of the addictive Allemanda; and Beyer reveals the connections between the harmonic layouts of the Corrente and the earlier Allemanda. Beyer and the ensemble bring an almost massive solemnity to the first of op. 6/5’s five movements, capped off with a frothy Finale with swirling figuration stretched across its chordal interjections. In op. 6/12, the Preludio sounds as though it might have been written for a concerto da chiesa, especially in the ensemble’s sonorously weighty performance, but their sprightliness in the ensuing Allegro helps resolve this identity crisis. And the Adagio that follows, returning to the solemnity of the Preludio before the Allemanda and Giga (with its melodic and harmonic similarity to the Gavotte from Corelli solo sonatas, upon which Giuseppe Tartini based his famous set of 50 variations), finally settle the question. The subtle alternation of styles that Corelli set up strikes a sympathetic chord in Beyer and the ensemble, and should in the listener as well. He cast op. 6/3 more clearly in the mold of the concerto da chiesa, with the fugal entries sparking its second movement; but its Finale, endowed in this performance with a level of rhythmic nuance that lifts it above any genre, again blurs the distinction. In the final work, op. 6/1, the ensemble races the second movement’s Allegro headlong to its conclusion, while the Largo moves to its own destination with the splendor of a Corpus Christi procession, smoking censers swinging in alternation. Once again, the engineers have allowed the final applause to reach the listener. Throughout, they’ve preserved a recorded sound that’s at once warm and clear.

Corelli’s concertos, worked out with supreme confidence and polish, communicate a strong sense that the cosmos have swirled, and will continue to swirl, in an awe-inspiring, orderly pattern. That Beyer and the ensemble have realized the full impact of this celestial inevitability, while remaining alive to the works’ earthier elements as well, accords them a place in the Pantheon beside Corelli’s own. In Fanfare 20:2, reviewing Fabio Biondi’s set of Corelli’s concerti grossi (Opus 111, 30-147 and 30-155) I set up Sigiswald Kuijken as a period-instrument whipping boy for his own set of the concerti grossi with La Petite Bande, which I described as “whiny” although Nils Anderson, in Fanfare 17:2, had picked it as his personal favorite. I’d still prefer Biondi; but, as at the time, I don’t think his improvisatory performances breathe Corelli’s rarefied atmosphere. Many historically informed performances call attention to something new with the abrasive rigmarole of a side-show barker. These, at once deeply thought-out and deeply affecting, make Corelli’s works glow from within, almost transcending the distinctions between the spheres da chiesa and the soil da camera. Urgently recommended—it would be hard to listen to the even the first few tracks of this collection without receiving the distinct impression that something very special has been preserved for all time (that’s true, although in a different way, for Biondi’s set).

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