Arcangelo Corelli might seem an unlikely figure to inspire mania in our manic times, but it is not our time that the German chamber orchestra Harmonie Universelle has in mind with this superb release. Instead they seek to capture something of the impact Corelli's music had in its own time: it was Giovanni Mossi, Pietro Locatelli, Antonio Vivaldi, and Francesco Geminiani who experienced "Corellimania," all in different ways. From a modern perspective Vivaldi is the most interesting of this group of composers, but this program situates Corelli in his proper place as the inspiration for the entire late Italian Baroque. There have been plenty of Corelli recordings, many comparing him with the composers who came later, but this is one of few that focuses on a particular genre, here the concerto grosso (a concerto for small group and large group) and brings out its development in detail. You not only get a feel for why Corelli was so revered: for the weight and proportions of his music, for the variety of his forms, for his balance between virtuosity and shape. You also hear how each of these other composers picked up aspects of Corelli's accomplishment and ran with it: Locatelli the virtuosity, Mossi the use of counterpoint, Vivaldi the brilliant formal freedom, just for a start. And on top of all this you get a renewed appreciation of Vivaldi's accomplishment: the Concerto for two violins, strings, and continuo in F major, RV 765, seems to sum up the experiments of the other composers and synthesize them. Harmonie Universelle, led by violinists Florian Deuter and Mónica Waisman, is a small ensemble that does not shortchange the contrast between the orchestra and the small solo group; it has the lively quality that can be achieved only with the leaders inside the group, and it captures the festive quality of the unusual Corelli pieces with brass instruments. Only metallic sound generated by the church surroundings detracts slightly from a superior experience.
by James Manheim