Handel wrote two sets of concerti grossi - the opus
3 and opus 6 concerti. This recording features the opus 3 works, which
were published in 1734. However, these concerti date back to around
1710 to 1720, and contain a great deal of music that Handel re-used.
The opus 3 concerti differ instrumentally from the later works. These
concerti feature winds - oboe, flute and bassoon - whereas the later
works were written for strings only.
There is a great deal of instrumental variety in these
works. It is almost as if Handel intended them to be an anthology of
different possibilities. The first concerto features two bassoons, the
second two cellos (in the moving largo they are in the forefront), the
third focuses on the flute and oboe, the fourth and fifth are written
around violins, and the sixth uses the organ. These are certainly some
of the most diverse instrumental works Handel wrote.
This disc, an analogue recording originally released
in 1981, is a refreshing hour of music. The sheer energy and involvement
of the musicians in these works is exemplary. John Eliot Gardiner gathered
a group of ten skilled and sensitive musicians, including violinist
Simon Standage and flautist Lisa Beznosiuk, and brought about that rare
alchemy of a classical recording - making the results much greater than
the sum of their parts. While all the musicians perform brilliantly,
there are many moments where the soloists shine individually. Standage’s
violin in the third movement of the 4th concerto, for example, has that
rare combination of excellent tone, perfect rhythm and a high level
of emotion. Alastair Ross on organ is captivating in the brief 6th concerto,
which, with only two movements, and its very French tone, is one of
the gems of this set.
But what stands out is the overall sound, the brightness
and energy of the ensemble, the often rapid yet appropriate tempi. All
that depends on a conductor who truly understands the music.
This memorable recording is a must for lovers of Handel’s
instrumental music. This bargain re-release makes it even more attractive
- this is a disc to snap up right away.