Some of the products of this Corelli-mania were displayed in this concert. They have a fascinating emotional tone, chaste and wild at the same time, which these performers caught perfectly. Geminiani’s take on Corelli’s famous La Follia sonata (which also fascinated Liszt and Rachmaninov) had a tremendous explosive energy, but also strange spectral moments where the tempo ground mysteriously to a halt. Here, as elsewhere the orchestra’s leader, Nadja Zwiener, really shone, switching in an instant from plaintiveness to fury.
Still, it has to be said that the star of this show was the snappily dressed, willowy figure of recorder player Maurice Steger. Anyone who thinks the recorder is fit only for school assemblies would have been forced to think again by Steger’s amazing virtuosity, which somehow soared over the instruments limitations. The rapid passagework in Corelli’s F major Concerto emerges as a barely audible bird-like twittering, but Steger made it so crystal ornaments-clear that it pushed through the orchestral sound without difficulty.
This offered the “wow” factor, but more striking was the way Steger draped expressive ornaments over the melodies of the slow movements, creating a luxuriant melancholy at each dying fall by leaning on the dissonant notes. Even grandeur isn’t beyond his reach, as was shown by a riveting performance of the Sarabande from Corelli’s 7th sonata. The unknown arranger added to the sense of unfolding majesty by bringing in more instruments (though I imagine director Laurence Cummings had a hand in this too), while over the top Steger floated a lovely line, fragile and droopingly expressive and dignified all at once.