This album features 12 so-called "Assisi" sonatas for violin and basso continuo and a bonus of 4 additional sonatas, Corelli opus anh. 34, 33, 36, and 35. Gatti has recorded Corelli in the past, and I purchased this recording based upon the strength of his recording with Aurora of Corelli's trio sonatas.
Your music history lessons may have left out Corelli's so-called Assisi sonatas. From the Glossa website:
The solo sonatas recorded here – which appear in a manuscript from the Franciscan monastery in Assisi – possess characteristics of mid-17th century Bolognese sonata production as well as elements very typical of Corelli’s style, adequately sufficient for Enrico Gatti, always scrupulous in his response to such questions, to be assured of Corelli’s authorship. Four additional sonatas from manuscript sources can be as well attributed to Corelli and are also included on this recording. Joining Gatti in his Ensemble Aurora for this recording, made last year in celebration of the 300th anniversary of Corelli’s death, are cellist Gaetano Nasillo and harpsichordist Anna Fontana.
Corelli's authorship aside, finding a set of violin sontatas in manuscript form, and recording them, is kind of exciting. I will say that these sonatas are not like the opus 5 collection; they are each short (around 3.5-4 minutes in length, with slow and fast sections). As you may have gathered from the text above, they are performed with a more or less "standard" late baroque continuo team of cello and harpsichord.
Gatti's sound in this recording is very bright and forward, with a gutsy richness. The violin is very forward in the recording, giving good balance among the three instruments.
The no. 8 in C minor's opening is perhaps the most characteristic of a bonafide Corelli sonata, but I'm expecting something more. I've of course listened to the ornamented versions of Corelli's opus 5 which took the bare bones lines and added additional notes in the form of florid figuration. Gatti has chosen instead of stick to the score, which is likely not a poor choice when introducing to the world "new" music. But the question that confronts us is if we should perform these as a "young, inexperienced Corelli" before having found fame as a teacher and composer, or else in the guise as played by a seasoned professional violinist?
The remaining four sonatas are a little more complex, and longer, but I would not go so far to say they were of the same quality as the opus 5.
The continuo team is solid; they give me the impression they are connected some how, and play well together as a team. Even the harpsichord has an especially nice sound.
Gatti plays with a nice tone; ever so exploring vibrato during the slower sections to pull a little more tone from his instrument. That said, he does not really do anything too shocking or extraordinary—comparing the style to other violinists who specialize in early Italian sonatas. It's not a complaint, it's my attempt to describe Gatti's playing, which is dynamically boyant and consistent.
This recording is likely to be of special interest to fans of Corelli's music and his place in musical history. The style is very clearly cut from the mid-to-late baroque style, and I am not sure I'm 100% convinced this is authentic Corelli. Gatti is convinced, and I have no expertise, so I'm going to take Ensemble Aurora's hunch. That said, the simplicity of the musical text for me is calling for more improvisation and a little more nuance in the intrepreation in order for the recording to be more perfect.
The stylistic differences to me are actually positive attributes, aside from the shortness of the Assisi-collection's length. Corelli's published music tends to get almost formulaic at times, in terms of the harmony. These pieces are not that way. If they are authentic, it's a rich find. My only guess, knowing Corelli's reputation as a master, is that there's room for a little more interpretive space to make these truly sing. Do not get me wrong — the interpreations are not boring or academic... but I simply see even more potential.
An unexpected and welcome release.