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Brilliant Classics

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Organ Concerto in G minor Op.4 No.1 [16.04]
Organ Concerto in G minor Op.4 No.3 [7.29]
Organ Concerto in D minor Op.7 No.4 [16.38]
Organ Concerto in A major HWV296a [17.20]
Harp Concerto in B flat major Op.4 No.6 [12.22]
Christian Schmitt (organ)
Charlotte Balzereit (harp)
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra/Nicol Matt
Recorded Schlosskapelle Solitude, Stuttgart, Summer-Autumn 2004
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I’m not sure whether these forces have set down the complete organ concertos but this represents a sampler, on SACD. There are two concertos from the earlier Op.4 collection, one from the second Op. 7, the A major HWV 296a and the B flat major Harp Concerto (Op.4 No.6 – its original guise before being reworked as one of the sixteen organ concertos). As such its claims on the catalogue are precarious – collectors will presumably want complete sets of Opp. 4 and 7 – and depend more than usually on executant ability.

The balance isn’t always perfect, a notoriously tricky business in organ concertos, but the string lines are moulded with warmth and zest. Compared with Preston and Pinnock, Schmitt and Matt tend to prefer a rather more clipped, reserved presence in the concertos. The organist enters Op.7 No.4 rather stealthily, for example, whereas the older English pairing are more robust and full of detail. Then again there’s more bite in the lower strings in the Pinnock/Preston traversal. True their organ sounds heavier whilst Schmitt’s Mühleisen of 1992 is brighter - maybe a touch too bright. However the German team fare rather less well in the same concerto’s Allegro finale where their string moulding lacks the kind of acutely phrased intelligence that gave such life to that Archiv set.

In Op.4 No.1 we hear again that the Stuttgart performance is rather smaller-scaled than, say, Peter Hurford’s recording on a 1976 Blank in Papendrecht in his traversal. Orchestral finesse is in greater evidence there, with Joshua Rifkin leading the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra with admirable incision. Op.4 No.3 is a bit of a moveable feast – the Stuttgart team performs the three-movement version – and fine though Charlotte Balzereit’s playing of the Harp Concerto is it may have made more sense to have kept this to an all-organ concerto disc.

A word about the ad-lib organ parts; Schmitt’s are, in keeping with his performance, tasteful and unfailingly musical but also noticeably less free than Hurford’s and Pinnock’s. The latter organists also extend their ad lib passages to greater length than their young German colleague.

The SACD sounds well enough on my ordinary set-up and the notes are cogent and in English. One more for admirers of the soloists and the group since enough mid-price traversals of the complete set exist to make this entrant seem less pressing on the wallet.

Jonathan Woolf


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