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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Organ Concertos (ca. 1735-1751)
CD1 [75:22]
Concerto in G minor, Op. 4 No. 1 [15:32]
Concerto in B flat major, Op. 4 No. 2 [9:22]
Concerto in G minor, Op. 4 No. 3 [10:07]
Concerto in F major, Op. 4 No. 4* [14:26]
Concerto in F major, Op. 4 No. 5 [8:12]
Concerto in B flat major, Op. 7 No. 3 [17:21]
CD2 [78:36]
Concerto in B flat major, Op. 7 No. 1 [15:46]
Concerto in A major, Op. 7 No. 2 [14:50]
Concerto in B flat major, Op. 4 No. 6¶ [13:05]
Concerto in D minor, Op. 7 No. 4 [13:58]
Concerto in G minor, Op. 7 No. 5 [12:01]
Concerto in B flat major, Op. 7 No. 6 [8:37]
Paul Nicholson (organ) [¶Op. 4 No. 6: Frances Kelly (harp)]
The Brandenburg Consort/Roy Goodman
*Choir of Clare College Cambridge/Timothy Brown
Recorded in St Lawrence, Whitchurch between 31 May, 5 June, 1996
HYPERION DYAD CDD22052 [78:36 + 75:22]
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This always was a particularly interesting recording of the Handel organ concertos, and it's good to have it made available at bargain price. Its special claim to fame is having been recorded on the delightful little organ of St Lawrence, Whitchurch (near Edgware, in North London) which Handel himself is known to have played - between 1718 and 1721 - whilst in the service of nearby resident the Duke of Chandos. With a significant number of its original voices still operational, its 1994 rebuild by Goetze and Gwynn has enabled us once again to enjoy the instrument very much as it was in Handel's day. So we can be fairly sure that the sound of the solo instrument on this CD, not to mention the acoustic of the church, is historically accurate.

But let's not get too excited about this. It is after all particularly difficult to be sure that any recording of the Organ Concertos successfully captures the way Handel intended us to hear them, because - as vehicles for Handel's spontaneous display and improvisatory skills, often written - i.e. notated - under great pressure - they're littered with shorthand and incomplete information, and in several instances exist in more than one version. This requires a great deal of modern interpreters, who need to make fundamentally important decisions, about the text itself, not just simple matters such as tempo or dynamics, on the basis of barely sufficient evidence. For us collectors, that means different recordings can sound very different to one another: so we don't need an excuse for having alternative versions on our shelves!

One very agreeable quirk of this Nicholson-Goodman collaboration is the inclusion (in Op. 4 No. 4 in F major) of the choral 'Alleluia' from Athalia (the one Handel eventually incorporated into The Triumph of Time and Truth) which is known to have been added to a 1737 performance.

Rather less of a surprise, but just as likely to provoke a smile, is the original version (for solo harp) of Op 4 No 6 in B flat major. It's well known in this form, of course: and how very stylish though sedate Frances Kelly's playing is! But what a pity these well-filled discs have no room for both harp and organ versions.

These performances are extremely enjoyable, and the recorded sound is very believable. That said, be advised that the character of both is intimate. If you know the van Asperen, Hurford or Koopman alternatives, which are generally bolder and more resonant, you may find its sense of scale just too limiting. And Nicholson's playing though admirably polished communicates more of a studied respect for Handel than the flamboyance one imagines distinguished Handel's own playing. But Goodman's direction is as lively as ever it was, and Marc Rochester's notes are excellent.

Peter J Lawson

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