Corelli's Op. 6 concertos, which so notably influenced Handel's later masterpieces in the concerto grosso style, are here reissued in first-rate performances by (then-Geneva-based) Ensemble 415, led by founder/violinist Chiara Banchini. The original recordings, released in 1992 and now repackaged in a handsomely presented 2-CD set, retain their clear detail and well-balanced sonic perspective, even if the overall ambience is a bit softer-edged and so a little less vibrant than we often hear these days from similar ensembles and repertoire. This sonic character is significantly influenced by the relatively large ensemble, which numbers nearly 40 in the concerti da chiesa and about 20 for the concerti da camera. These numbers certainly aren'tRead more unusual for a Corelli orchestra, and one of the benefits of this production is getting to hear such a grand sound in the tuttis enhanced by varied colors in the concertino and orchestral continuo groupings, whose makeup changes with each concerto.
The playing is impeccable--crisply articulated, with fetching rhythmic pulse and shapely phrasing in the slow passages. Interpretively we are treated to tempos that reflect an observation by Georg Muffat (who witnessed Corelli's own performances) to "imitate the Italians as closely as possible"--that is, to render the slow movements "slower" and the fast movements "faster" than the norm in northern Europe. So indeed there are some unusually slow moments--the Adagio-Allegro-Adagio movement of the famous concerto No. 8 ("Christmas Concerto"), for instance--and some assuredly brisk (but not too brisk) fast movements.
Overall, however, this probably is the slowest recorded set of these 12 works, and the thing is, you never suspect it because the balance of tempos from movement to movement is ideally judged, and there's a pervasive liveliness and buoyancy in the playing that ensures a certain momentum that never allows the music to feel under-powered. In fact, I prefer Banchini's performances to Nicholas McGegan's smaller-scaled, very articulate, exciting, and comparably lightning-fast renditions with the Philharmonia Baroque from 1989 (also on Harmonia Mundi). This was definitely an excellent choice for re-issue in Harmonia Mundi's new hmGold series--if you missed it, don't hesitate this time.