Review / An ensemble of superb phrasing

Music / “Corelli & Friends”, Salut! Baroque. At Albert Hall, August 10. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE

ITALIAN composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) almost single-handedly established the musical form of Concerto Grosso, with a little help from his predecessor Alessandro Stradella, greatly influencing Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann and Bach amongst others who refined the style into the standard three movement format of fast-slow-fast. Corelli’s earlier achievements contained up to seven movements. Ultimately, this all paved the way for the classical solo concerto.
This delightful concert by Salut! Baroque was programmed to feature the master Corelli in the grand finale, but beginning with his lesser known contemporaries and also showcasing some of his more famous disciples.
Concepts that set this group apart from others include a constantly changing sound stage, where different groups of musicians move to new locations, enhancing both the desired effect of placement and balance. Also, they tune to a Baroque pitch of A415, which is a full semi-tone lower than today’s mostly used A440. Thirdly, the recorders, one treble in particular, seem to use a tempered scale of an antique origin, thus creating an unusual tuning system within the group. These things combined make Salut! one of the most authentic period instrument ensembles both in choice of repertoire, but even more-so in sound and tone production.
Beginning with the “Sinfonia Funebre in F minor” by Locatelli, which served as a bright opener, the concert progressed with an aria from J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”, beautifully sung by soprano Amy Moore. Her voice is perfectly balanced for this repertoire – not as light as Dame Emma Kirkby, but not as heavy as Cecilia Bartoli – both world famous exponents of the Baroque vocal repertoire. Moore’s interpretations in all her pieces were controlled, dynamic and delivered with impeccable diction. A very beautiful and rapturous sound that filled the Albert Hall with ease, without overpowering.
Telemann’s “Corellisierende Trio Sonata No.1” featured strings and harpsichord and as the name suggests is an homage to Corelli, stylistically almost undetectable from the older composer and a testament to his influence on these later Baroque composers.
William Topham’s “Sonata in D major Op.3, No.6” followed and was a display of charm and courtly dance, featuring the entire ensemble.
Amy Moore returned for the first of the really revealing and delicately balanced pieces, an aria from Act II of Vivaldi’s opera “Ottone in Villa “. Here, the ensemble divided into call-and-response sections, not unlike antiphon choirs, with the two violins and viola forming one section and two treble recorders forming the response with Moore in the centre delivering a delicate and sensitive vocal line. Excellent continuo support was played by Tim Blomfield on cello, Valmai Coggins on Viola and Monika Kornel on harpsichord. An unusual piece which also served well to vary the program.
The second half opened with a Chaconne by little known composer Johann Pez which was a delightful piece, moving into the Psalm “In te, Domine, speravi” by Johann Rosenmüller for vocals, strings and harpsichord.
Throughout the concert, violinists Matthew Greco and Julia Russoniello captured every nuance of musicality possible. They play together almost as one, with such feeling and depth of beauty of sound and are a joy to watch as they communicate through glances, gestures and nods, projecting the majesty and passion of everything they play.
An aria from Antonio Bononcini’s Cantata “Mentre in placido sonno” was the penultimate offering, particularly showcasing treble recorders played exquisitely by Sally Melhuish and Hans-Dieter Michatz, before the finale of Corelli’s “Concerto Grosso in F major Op.6 No.7” which showcased the superb ensemble phrasing of Salut!, another of the highlights and strengths of this remarkable group.

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