Corelli: Concerti Grossi, Sinfonia Santa Beatrice d’Este

Freiburger Barockorchester, Gottfried von der Goltz
Aparté AP190

It’s Corelli, but not as we know it! Everyone who knows anything about Baroque music knows that the written note is only the starting point of a performance; singers and players must adorn it in their own style while respecting the composer’s original thoughts. It is equally well known that various writers described how concerti grossi could be embellished (and the harmony made richer) by the doubling of parts and, in certain circumstances, the addition of instruments not specified, such as oboes and bassoons, and “other instruments”.

So, you will know what is coming next. The 66423 strings (more basses than cellos?) are joined by oboes, bassoon, trumpets, trombones, lutes (yes, plural!), harp and one harpsichordist/organist (whose presence you will certainly notice). Anything in D with arpeggio themes is taken over by trumpets (except, obviously enough, in the passages where modulation makes their participation impossible). The two solo violinists “improvise” a very neat introduction to one concerto. It’s all great fun, and a novel way to hear Corelli’s music, but is it HIP? In fact, I would argue that actually the arrangements (because that is what they are) do not go far enough; rather than giving the brass players music and telling them to play whatever they can of a violin part, why not sit down and compose a brass part that is fully participatory – that is, after all, what musicians of the time would have done; the Dresden music collection is full of parts for instruments the composer did not intend which were composed by the copyists according to the style of the court musical establishment – and frequently these parts do not feature in surviving contemporary scores. While I initially warmed to the extra colours in Corelli’s music, ultimately I found the overall result a little disappointing from an intellectual perspective. The playing, as you would imagine, is wonderful!

Brian Clark

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