These are fine performances of the foundational documents of the modern instrumental sonata, but listeners should sample them and be sure they're on board with all of the assumptions being made here. Corelli's 12 Violin Sonatas, Op. 5, are divided between the sonata da camera (chamber sonata) and sonata da chiesa (church sonata) types, between short suites of dance-based movements and abstract, mostly binary structures, respectively. Unlike other instrumental works of the High Baroque, they remained popular for decades, both as vehicles for the display of technique and as compositional models. Corelli himself was famous as a performer, and these sonatas call for a good deal of non-notated ornamentation.
This recording falls into several developing categories in its field. Violinist Stefano Montanari and the Accademia Bizantina use historical instruments. His Baroque violin is an abrasive but highly agile thing; you hear plenty of bow scraping across sheep intestine (or whatever), but there is no doubt that the virtuoso arpeggios of this music were intended for an instrument that let the bow wrap itself around the group of strings. The recording is, furthermore, an Italian historical-instrument performance, and like other such recordings that have come out of Italy in recent years, it has a fiery, rather extreme character. Montanari's added ornamentation is explosive and difficult, with something of a skittering quality; he is unquestionably a master of the Baroque violin. Yet another strongly defining characteristic of this recording is the use of a large continuo group, featuring violoncello piccolo (small cello), violone (a large bass viol), archlute or Baroque guitar, organ, and harpsichord. That seems like a lot, considering that the Italian title of Corelli's set of sonatas is "12 Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo" (12 Sonatas for violin and violone or harpsichord). But composers' and publishers' title pages did not always match what was played, and this approach has both advantages and disadvantages. The opening slow movements of the church sonatas on disc one are splendidly stately, and the whole performance seems to situate Corelli's style at its point of emergence from seventeenth century ensemble music -- other performances tend to take Vivaldi as a retrospective outlook point. On the other hand, the violin seems to compete with the ensemble at times. Sample a recording of the same works by Andrew Manze, with only a harpsichord accompaniment, for a completely different effect. The SACD sound of this 2002 recording is very much up close and personal: it is extremely detailed and resonant, but it picks up lots of extraneous noise from the instruments and the performers. One feels as though one is sitting in the front row of chairs in a drawing room in a mansion of Corelli's day -- and the recording as a whole is perhaps the most authentic available.