The reason for the title of ”Maestro Corelli’s Violins” – featuring three Italian composers born between 1676 and 1681 – is that on 8 April 1708 they were performers in an orchestra directed by Arcangelo Corelli.
This tenuous link serves to indicate that a generation after Corelli’s birth (1653), composers were expanding adventurously on the style of mid-seventeenth-century string music. The six-movement Concerto by Giuseppe Valentini (1681-1753) is a perfect example of originality – fierce and brilliant by turns especially in the wild, fourth-placed Presto. The instruments employed by Collegium 90 are truly of the period (only the harpsichord and archlute are modern reconstructions) and the ‘old’ pitch of A=415 is used.
Simon Standage’s immense experience in this field makes him the ideal director. All the pieces in this collection are described as Concertos – not solo Concertos I hasten to add – although the leader is often required to perform demanding passages. All three composers capture the ear with brisk, answering passages between first and second violins. The orchestration is modest; using four violins with the exception of Giovanni Mossi’s Opus 4/12 where there are eight. Suitably this is placed last, and as in the Valentini, the use of archlute gives an interesting depth to the timbre. When Italian Baroque music is mentioned, Vivaldi’s name comes to mind first, and of this trio of composers, Mossi (c.1680-1742) recalls that great musician’s style to some extent. His brief and light-hearted Opus 4/11 certainly creates a Vivaldian atmosphere and the fiery second movement of No.12 examples the way Mossi allots demanding solos, with a particularly spectacular one for cello.
The three Concertos by Antonio Montanari (1676-1737) are notable for the lyricism of their Adagios. The slow-fast-slow-fast style of the period is retained except in Opus 1/2 where a bouncy Handelian Presto is the unexpected beginning. There is also a departure from the usual form at the start of the more substantial Opus 1/6 where the pattern of a rondo is anticipated but on each appearance the secondary subject is Andante whereas the main theme is Adagio
Although not a note of Corelli’s music is heard, this release is enlightening regarding the development of Italian music from this time. The sound is very impressive and the superb acoustic gives warmth and naturalness to the strings – proof that there is no need to add vibrato. The wide stereophonic spread enables the many answering phrases to make their presence felt while the use of a violone gives a precision to the lower register which a double bass rarely provides and the continuo group is clearly balanced: this is an immensely stylish presentation.