I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Mr. Corelli in London

#alttext# Seventy-one minutes of "arrangements" of Corelli, performed with recorder and orchestra. Conducted by Laurence Cummings. Soloist, the very capable Maurice Steger. The music? This 2010 disc features music from Corelli's two biggest works, his opus 5 violin sonatas and his opus 6 concertos. I've liked Steger's playing in the past, and of course, I like Corelli. And what's up with the English Concert? It was worth an exploration, in the least. Looking at Amazon, two folks this past April gave all five fingers in support of the recording, noting Steger's playing a "thrilling hybrid, dazzingly embellished yet pure and true of tone..." and the other, "these performances are as lively as they possibly could be, and the balances on the recording are just right." Let's start with the concerto version of Corelli's Follia, which opens here with guitar. It's a small instrument, bathed in a more than ample acoustic. It has an exotic flavor, until the main course comes, reminiscent of the famous arrangement by Geminiani. All strings... The strings start their own variations, and despite the over-done acoustic, I like the sound of the ensemble. None of string players really over-dominate the texture, and I agree, balance here is well-done. This reading fails to meet the excitement level that Andrew Manze did with his reading of Geminiani and the AAM, but this was a nice insertion into the program appearing mid-disc. It has no recorder. In pieces such as the "Concerto per flauto in F," the texture again is well-done, with the recorder blending into the ensemble sound nicely. Steger here uses what I guess is either a voice flute or an alto recorder, as the sound is never strident. In the well-known Concerto in D minor, Steger goes for a higher instrument, ever delicate in tone, but the range is simply higher. Somehow, the flute steps out of the texture enough to dominate, and when it appears, it's a abundance of notes. The man hardly takes a break to hold a note much longer than a quaver, but the ensemble was smart in inserting relief without flute. Dazzle is the appropriate word, just as it would be in the Concerto in E minor, albeit with an instrument with lower tessitura. While Corelli is the foundation, Mr. Steger is decorating the palette of sound with so many notes I can only picture fleeting fingers. The piece opens with a sunny concerto in F, in 5 movements, which again could best be described as a "flurry of notes," this time using a high soprano instrument that commands our attention by being favored too heavily in the arrangement to defy what I might guess is natural balance. To make the texture even more ebullient, they add trills from continuo organ. The last movement is a slow one, a ground upon the 7th violin sonata's sarabanda. We start with plucked continuo, and then comes the recorder. This is an appropriate balance on paper, but the large acoustic puts the continuo squarely in the background. Steger has a better mix here of a real line versus his filigree, but the harmonic support from the continuo is simply too weak. At around 2:30 into the piece, a second recorder (or is it organ) comes into the texture, competing in the same tonal range as Steger. This helps with harmonic texture, but it gets better when bowed instruments enter the scene. Eventually, the harpsichord makes an entrance, but the piece while interesting, doesn't show the mark of mastery. I compare a piece like this to Bach's great C-minor Passacaglia for organ, which has a wonderful formal structure. Here the ensemble, despite trying, build the drama appropriately. Somehow this track isn't one I'm oft to repeat. So, I said a lot about what's to be found, without a lot of subjective language. There's no denying Maurice Steger is a virtuoso. He's earned that title. And technically, the English Concert under Mr. Cummings is a more than adequate back-up band. But the recording lacks what other conductors might have brought to the table: some decorum. The "lively" performances, also described as "thrilling," or "dazzingly embellished" are simply over the top. Most of the playing I'd say fits into barque language, but it's hard to not get the feeling that this is too much, too often. Steger I feel goes overboard with the ornamentation, to the point of the recording being about the virtuosity alone. Anyone of these pieces featuring Steger would make for a fitting encore piece to show off the performer's skill at improvisation at the close of a concert. But one virtuosic show-stopper after another makes for a fatiguing CD. Now, I must admit, a lot of Corelli's works are played tamely compared to what we read was possible by gifted violinists of the period. Steger shows us what that might have actually approached, of course, using the language and idiom of his own instrument. If the dial of baroqueness was set to '10' on this recording, I feel as a recording/record, we'd had better been served with the dial in different places, maybe perhaps mellowing out around a '7' from start to finish. Technique is evident here. The dreamy, live acoustic helps keep the ensemble at bay. Steger - showing off for sure, bringing the sound of a variety of recorders to the sound of mid-baroque Corelli.

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