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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, January 2008

This completes Naxos’s recordings devoted to the Op.5 sonatas of Corelli. The earlier performances were by Lucy van Dael and Bob van Asperen [Naxos.8.557165]. Pitch here is A’= 400 Hz which is to say about a whole tone below modern pitch but there’s quite sufficient astringency to François Fernandez’s Guarneri to ensure that the music emerges with vibrancy and attack.

These are in short highly accomplished and convincing traversals. Questions of ornamentation are addressed in the notes by harpsichordist Glen Wilson, as is the matter of the realization of the figured bass part – which is here given over entirely to the harpsichord, a Ruckers copy. Such matters, in themselves hardly academic, may tempt readers one way or another, given that others performers – let’s take Elizabeth Wallfisch and the Locatelli Trio (now on a Hyperion Double Dyad CDD22047) as a front-running example - make different choices and utilise different solutions.

I mentioned that Fernandez hardly lacks for attack; in fact his tone is sometimes astringent, reminding one perhaps of a baroque Kremer, or an off-day Szigeti in its tonal qualities. His performances however are thoroughly convincing on their own terms and he’s fortunate that Wilson plays so adroitly, never self consciously (well, not often) and is a forthright collaborator. In this respect too the recording engineers have taken care to balance the two instruments with great precision in relation to each other.

A few examples of the laudable qualities of the playing should convince one of the sheer musicianship evinced by both men. The repeated figures of the Sarabande of the Eighth Sonata are varied with care, dynamics being finely scaled. The Giga of the D minor [No.7] is deftly articulated; diminuendi are crafted with assurance and above these matters there’s a convincing sense of melodic sweep. There’s no sense of hurry or excessive dynamism, though the performances are by no means slow – in fact they’re well textured and relatively fast. The flying decoration in the Preludio of the E minor is excellently realised; the Giga of the A major – heard here in the edition with Geminiani’s ornaments - is robust and full of stature.

If one has reservations maybe they concern the occasionally nasal tonal qualities that Fernandez promotes; maybe also Wilson is too combative a presence in, say, the second movement Allegro of the E major [No.11]. Nevertheless I rather admired the daring metrical stretching of some parts of La Folia where we find Fernandez unafraid to bring a Manze-like personalisation to the melodic line (Manze and Egarr’s set can be found on HMU90 7298.99 and characteristically these two make more expressively extreme statements than other duos). But if one perhaps draws back from wholly endorsing some of Fernandez and Wilson’s ideas I think one can fairly note that their taste and good sense really don’t desert them.

Taken on its own terms, with appropriate questions of instrument, pitch and ornamentation taken into account, this is a first class addition to the Corelli discography.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, December 2007

François Fernandez and Glen Wilson's readings of the last six sonatas of Corelli's op. 5 make up the second disc (the first set issued by Naxos as 8.557165). Harpsichordist Geln Wilson has provided the notes, in which he discusses the style of ornamentation, the use of harpsichord alone in realizing the figured bass, and the choice of A=400 (at which pitch Fernandez's 1690 Andrea Guarneri violin, hardly so viola-like as might be expected, retains a surprising edge -of course, Corelli, like many of his contemporaries, avoided more than occasional use of the G string, supposedly because the bulkier string responded more sluggishly, so the higher tessitura doesn't focus so intently on the instrument's lower registers).

Corelli's sonatas influenced not only his contemporaries and immediate followers, but generations to come, and Fernandez and Wilson's performances should make them equally impressive to modern listeners as well -not because of modern instruments or reliance on astringent timbres, but simply because they make these works breathe with a similar vital force they must have exhibited in their own time.

Even in these sonatas da camera the bass counterpoint should hold the most hidebound polyphonist's attention, yet the melodies flow liquidly in the slow movements and they leap with sprightly, though controlled, energy in the fast ones. In the Ninth Sonata, Fernandez plays, on repeats, the ornaments provided by Corelli's student, Geminiani, available in Hawkins's History of Music (elsewhere, they try to remain true to the spirit of models that Roger claimed Corelli himself provided). Geminiani's "ornaments", as Wilson notes, amount almost to recomposition -heavy handed ones, in fact, some might think, in the spirit of Geminiani's reworkings of Corelli's solo sonatas as concerti grossi).

Throughout, Wilson and Fernandez tease the textures of these works -which could alternatively be played with a noble (deadly?) restraint as inviolable masterpieces -with textural highlights, strong underscoring of the signature sequential passages, and zesty tempos. In Fernandez and Wilson's performance, the famous "Follia" blends a somewhat melancholy dignity with the noted technical brilliance that made it a model for virtuosic showpieces through generations. In this joie de vivre the duo seems to be having a thumpingly good time, as did Andrew manze in so many pieces. Yet, with Corelli's sonatas, Manze (Harmonia Mundi), with period instruments, wove sensitive, seductive fantasies. In 20:3 I reviewed John Holloway's more abruptly rethorical set, on period instruments (Novalis). And I also liked Elizabeth Wallfisch's set with the Locatelli Trio on Hyperion, which Nils Anderson reviewed in 14:4.

Although Fernandez draws a somewhat reedy, acerbic sound from his violin, sound never seems an end in itself, nor does he rely upon it as a means to any other kind of end than a purely musical one. The engineers have balanced the harpsichord and violin almost perfectly; the ambiance remains clear and light. These performances constitute both an irrefutable argument for Corelli’s predominance and an irresistable introduction to his oevre. In the last analysis, the choice between manze, Holloway, and Fernandez depends more on the listener's aesthetic predilictions rather than on any other superior merit. They are all authorative in their very different ways. Fernandez belongs in august company. Urgently recomended.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, November 2007

Fernandez and Wilson have shown just why Corelli made so deep an impression on his contemporaries, not just with textbook models of style and form but with engaging musical ideas.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, November 2007

Throughout, Wilson and Fernandez tease the textures of these works—which could alternatively be played with a noble (deadly?) restraint as inviolable masterpieces—with textural highlights, strong underscoring of the signature sequential passages, and zesty tempos. In Fernandez and Wilson’s performance, the famous “Follia” blends a somewhat melancholy dignity with the noted technical brilliance that made it a model for virtuosic showpieces through the generations. In this joie de vivre the duo seems to be having a thumpingly good time, as did Andrew Manze in so many pieces.

Although Fernandez draws a somewhat reedy, acerbic sound from his violin, sound never seems an end in itself, nor does he rely upon it as a means to any other kind of end than a purely musical one. The engineers have balanced the harpsichord and violin almost perfectly; the ambiance remains clear and light. These performances constitute both an irrefutable argument for Corelli’s predominance and an irresistible introduction to his œuvre. In the last analysis, the choice between Manze, Holloway, and Fernandez depends more on the listener’s aesthetic predilections rather than on any superior merit. They are all authoritative in their very different ways. Fernandez belongs in this august company. Urgently recommended. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, July 2007

Corelli’s Op. 5 comprises a set of twelve sonatas for violin and continuo, the first six of which Naxos recorded in 2002 with Lucy van Dael and Bob van Asperen. That disc (Naxos 8.557165) received a fair welcome on this site from Paul Shoemaker and a warmer one from Emma Jones: her summing-up – “intelligent performances, and well worth buying, especially at budget price” – is equally applicable to the present completion of the set, albeit that two different artists, François Fernandez and Glen Wilson, are involved in this co-production with Bavarian Radio. Anyone who responds favourably to Vivaldi or to Corelli’s own better-known Op. 6 Concerti Grossi need not hesitate to buy these lively performances of some fine music. Published on January 1st., 1700, these sonatas were clearly meant to be the music of the new century and they became so popular that a number of early eighteenth-century arrangements of them, for various instrumental combinations and for keyboard solo, exist. (Scores and mp3 excerpts from several of these can be found online.

The best-known of these arrangements is Geminiani’s set of Concerti Grossi, Op. 5.

Which to choose – Corelli’s original penny-plain or Geminiani’s twopenny-coloured – the fuller sound of the Geminiani or the more immediate sound of the Corelli? The contrast between the two versions is made all the starker by the fact that Naxos have decided, as on their earlier disc, not to employ a second continuo instrument, a decision ably defended in Glen Wilson’s very informative notes: his assertion that the ‘ò’ in Corelli’s indication Sonati a violino e violone ò cembalo means ‘keyboard or cello or gamba’, not ‘and/or’ seems logical, as does his statement that “harpsichord alone offers some advantages of clarity, certainly when a double-manual instrument is used.”

Clarity is certainly the keynote of these performances and my ear did not crave the extra continuo. This is probably partly due to the fact that the recording is close, but not too close, and that Wilson’s copy of a 1628 Ruckers harpsichord is rarely backward in coming forward, in contrast with the earlier CD, where Emma Jones found the continuo rather mild. (Wilson makes a strong case for the availability and use of such a fuller-sounding instrument in Italy by the date of these sonatas.) I don’t wish to imply that the harpsichord is out of proportion; indeed, just occasionally I felt that the violin was slightly too forward, but these are essentially violin sonatas with continuo accompaniment. On the earlier disc three of the sonatas were performed with organ continuo; here the harpsichord is employed throughout.

Tempi throughout are quite brisk, especially in the opening sonata, No. 7, though never unduly so. The headnote on the back cover refers to Corelli’s “slow movements of a lyrical, elegant beauty”; the players achieve this lyricism while resisting the temptation to linger over-long in these movements. The Sarabanda : Largo of the eighth sonata is a case in point where lyricism is achieved without any sense of lingering too long (2:30 against the 2:17 of the equivalent movement in Andrew Manze’s recording with the Academy of Ancient Music of the Geminiani orchestration but subjectively both sound correct in context – if anything, Manze sounds slightly slower and I Musici at 2:49 really do sound slow. Straight time-comparisons are, in any case, not always relevant, since Geminiani recast some of the music as he orchestrated it.).

The notes also refer to the technical demands of these virtuoso sonatas, demands to which the performers are fully equal. This is nowhere more apparent than in the twelfth concerto, which is not really a concerto at all but a twelve-minute set of variations on that ubiquitous baroque theme La Folia. (22 variations according to the booklet, 23 according to my edition.) The folly involved relates to the madness of the performers of what began life as a dance, but could equally apply to any instrumentalists who seek unadvisedly to undertake what Geminiani names as the ultimate work of the violin repertoire. Fernandez and Wilson rise very ably to the occasion. The notes refer to Fernandez’s use of ornamentation derived from contemporary sources. Without wishing to become embroiled in an academic debate, suffice it to say that I never found this ornamentation obtrusive: much of it is, in any case, marked in the score which I used.

I have already referred to the AAM/Manze recording of the Geminiani Op. 5: only the second half of this set, Nos. 7-12, appears to be currently available, at mid-price, bundled with the 2007 catalogue on Harmonia Mundi HMX290 7262. I Musici’s version of the complete set, formerly available on a recommendable Philips Duo issue (433 766-2) also appears to have been deleted. Andrew Manze has recorded an excellent complete set of the Corelli originals with Richard Egarr on HMU90 7298.99 (2 CDs). As on the present Naxos issue, Manze and Egarr dispense with the extra continuo. Those who insist on the extra instrumentation are well served by Monica Huggett et al on a bargain Virgin Veritas twofer (5 62236-2) on which the keyboard part alternates between harpsichord and organ and which normally sells for even less than the two Naxos CDs.

I expected to come away with a clear preference for the Geminiani versions yet, very well performed as these are by Manze and the Academy, I found myself preferring the fresh spring water of the Corelli as performed on this Naxos recording. How appropriate that the recording venue, Bronnbach, means ‘spring-stream’. The use of period instruments contributes to this sense of freshness. If you want only one CD of Corelli, you may find that the sonatas on this second disc (chiefly sonate da camera) are easier on the ear than the sonate da chiesa on the earlier Naxos CD.

My only real complaint is that Fernandez and Wilson offer only the Geminiani revision of Sonata No. 9. There would have been room to include the original version of this sonata also, as is the case on the Wallfisch recording (Hyperion CDA66381/2), which Paul Shoemaker preferred to the earlier Naxos issue.

Mike D. Brownell, June 2007

The second half of Corelli's Op. 5 sonatas, this volume of sonatas 7 -- 12 primarily contains works in the form of the Sonata da camera. Anyone the least bit interested in works for the Baroque violin should absolutely have this album (and indeed, the first volume). The sonatas themselves are each true gems. The movements in this volume primarily consist of dance movements often associated with the Baroque suite. Although there is some debate over Corelli's intention to have the typical cello doubling of the harpsichord left hand, the liner notes of this album provide a convincing argument why no cello was intended. Rather, harpsichordist Glen Wilson performs on a double manual instrument and the result is truly breathtaking. The doubling, which takes place in the harpsichord itself, results in incredibly full and rich sonorities in Naxos' recorded sound, making the album almost worthwhile just to hear Wilson's playing. Of course, these are violin sonatas and Wilson's breathtaking performance at the harpsichord is equaled by Baroque violinist Francois Fernandez. His tone and approach to the instrument are not unlike Carmignola; piercing and focused without being too bright, a powerful and in-the-string right arm without being overly aggressive, and splendid choices of ornamentation throughout. The only thing more listeners could ask for is that Corelli had written more sonatas for this gifted duo to perform.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2007

Much of Corelli's life was never accurately chronicled, and we are often relying on second-hand information, though there is no doubt that he was the leading violinist in Italy during the latter part of the 17th century, all of his works that have survived including that instrument. He was equally the most influential violin teacher of his time, while his music shaped the output of almost all of the following generation. The exact date of the opus 5 is unclear, the twelve sonatas being published in Rome in 1700. They were described as music for violin with violone or harpsichord continuo, and here comes the question mark over this release, as just over two years ago Naxos issued the first six sonatas with different performers, the backdrop in the first six coming from chamber organ. So you now have a major shift when you buy the second half of the opus. That said the playing of Francois Fernandez is very rewarding, the tangy sound of gut strings and avoidance of vibrato creating the sound we imagine would have come from a violin of Corelli's time. Her playing is crisp with fast movements never rushed but still sprightly, while there is always a total understanding between players. The recording is well-balanced and of a highly desirable quality.

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