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Geminiani on Corelli

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F. Geminiani, Concerti Grossi, Academy of Ancient Music, Andrew Manze
(released September 12, 2000)
Having recently reviewed the new set of Handel's op. 3 concerti grossi from the Academy of Ancient Music, it was good to return to an older recording of works by one of Handel's leading competitors. Francesco Geminiani came from a similar Italian background as il caro Sassone, having also worshipped at the feet of Arcangelo Corelli. To make the point of his musical heritage, Geminiani published a set of twelve concerti grossi, adaptations and reworkings of Corelli's famous op. 5 set of violin sonatas. The first six were better received, the pieces based on Corelli's sonate da chiesa. This summer, I have been listening to the second set of six, based on sonata da camera models. This little re-release of the second half of Andrew Manze's 1999 recording of the complete set of twelve concerti grossi, with the Academy of Ancient Music, has provided much pleasure.

The most substantial and, to my ears, best of the six is no. 12, the final piece in the set and the one that breaks the mold. In D minor, it is a set of 24 variations on the Follia theme, a simple little ditty and set of chords that has yielded some magnificent elaborations, especially in the Baroque period. Geminiani's expansion of Corelli's original makes for infectious rhythmic interplay in this enervated rendition. (I last heard this piece live from the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin at the Library of Congress two years ago, a performance that was even more stunning in terms of virtuosity.) The other five concerti consist of a prelude and three or four dance movements of various types, with the most beautiful being the substantial no. 8, in E minor. Much of the delight comes from the lucid, rarefied solo playing of violinist Andrew Manze, whose slightly conservative pacing lent grace more than brio in many cases. As encore, Geminiani's D minor cello sonata (op. 5, no. 2) is a subtle dessert, featuring the group's current music director, Richard Egarr, at the harpsichord.

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907261.62

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