Corelli for Trombone

0 of 5 stars

Corelli arr. Hall
Sonatas for violin and continuo, Op.5 – Parte Seconda: Sonatas 7-12 in D minor, E minor, A, F, E, and D minor (Variations on “La Follia”)

Mike Hall (Conn 36h E flat alto trombone with B flat/A valve attachment)
Rebecca Bell (harpsichord)
Larry Rice (double bass)

Recorded September 2001 and January 2002 in Saint Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, Lawrence, Kansas, USA

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: July 2004
Duration: 70 minutes

The art of transcription or arrangement is the art of revealing not only hitherto undiscovered aspects of the music and the instrument in question but also of the thinking musician’s response to both. And in arranging the second part of Arcangelo Corelli’s Opus 5 set for alto trombone, Mike Hall has rendered a service not only to his fellow trombonists (a performing edition is readily available from Kagarice Brass Editions) but also to the listening public at large.

Corelli’s Opus 5, for solo violin with continuo accompaniment, seems so thoroughly idiomatic to that instrument that you might think it a little eccentric to arrange the music for trombone. But it works, and not only because of Professor Hall’s superb technique, facilitated by using an alto trombone (for much the same reason that virtuoso baroque trumpet music is often played on a piccolo trumpet), but also because the modern trombone is essentially the same instrument as its sackbut forebear. The sound is therefore rich in connotations, especially when accompanied by harpsichord.

The trick is not to compare this version to the many violin recordings available but to read it against them; suddenly Hall’s floating tone (beautifully captured by producer and engineer Paul Eachus) and meticulous passagework brings Corelli’s gift for clarity of construction and melodic invention out boldly like a bass-relief (in brass of course!) over Andrew Manze’s raw, flexible account for Harmonia Mundi, Arthur Grumiaux’s elegant 1975 reading for Philips or even Dan Laurin’s recorder version of one of the ‘first part’ sonatas on BIS.

My only gripes were three. First, Hall readily admits to basing his ornaments both on those found in the surviving manuscripts and recordings by violinists such as Elizabeth Wallfisch: this is “reheating” (as Manze in the liner notes to his wonderful recording says, paraphrasing Verancini) and comes as a bit of a surprise from a man who was also director of the Jazz Ensemble Program at Eastern Michigan University (and therefore no stranger to improvisation). Second, the harpsichord has a curious, synthesizer-like sound, but Rebecca Bell’s playing is very fine, and at least she does improvise both the accompaniment and her ornamentation. Thirdly, in the final sonata, the variations on ‘La Follia’, Hall has unwisely chosen to imitate double-stopping by using ‘multiphonics’ (humming one note while playing another) – this sounds rather comical and does nothing for the intonation both of these passages and those that immediately follow.

Maybe this disc is mainly for fans of the trombone – but it’s also of no small value to those who want to hear a different take on this music: I for one had a great time listening to Mike Hall negotiating the twists and turns of music that is normally the domain of the violin. The CD can be purchased direct from Kagarice and other outlets include

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