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George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Concerti Grossi Op. 6, Nos. 7-12 (1739)
Concerto Grosso in B-flat major, Op.6, No.7 [12:46]
Concerto Grosso in C minor, Op.6, No.8 [12:01]
Concerto Grosso in F major, Op.6, No.9 [13:13]
Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op.6, No.10 [13:08]
Concerto Grosso in A major, Op.6, No.11 [16:45]
Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op.6, No.12 [11:38]
Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman
rec. Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, 22-24 February 2007.
TELARC CD80688 [79:33]
Experience Classicsonline

Everyone should have a bit of Handel in their music collection. Some of the best and most representative pieces one could have are the Concerti Grossi, which include Handel’s Op.3 but more importantly his Op.6. Apart from just being highly entertaining works, they offer a wealth of sources and influences, ‘nicked’ not only from Handel’s own work, but from that of other composers who interested him at the time. This is hardly surprising, since he blasted through the composition of these works within a month. Not even the greatest of geniuses could manage that kind of sustained creativity without drawing on one wellspring of previously existing music or another.
Martin Pearlman’s own booklet notes offer a great deal of insight and detail on all of the concertos here, and it is fascinating either to pick out the references mentioned, or embark on a voyage of discovery, finding out more about the great variety of pieces which Pearlman mentions or scurrying to your shelves to see if they are already there. He even mentions Lukas Foss’s 1967 Baroque variations, which uses the Larghetto from the Concerto No.12. I was convinced I had it on LP, but it turned out to be Geod from 1969 – which shows how much I know about my own collection.
Having illustrated the stimulating effect Handel can still have even today, a new recording of the Op.6 is welcome. My own reference has been that of Iona Brown, which was well received on these pages, but is a rather unequal comparison having been recorded using modern instruments. I was also intrigued to see another set with Christopher Hogwood from the Boston region which has received plaudits from many sides. Both of these have been around long enough to have been deleted and reissued on different labels, Brown on Brilliant, Hogwood on Avie from the original Decca L’Oiseau Lyre.
The new Telarc set has been issued on two separate discs, the first of which promising much if the reviews are to be trusted. Indeed, they can be – trusted that is. These are spirited performances of the utmost clarity and refinement. These works are basically string concerti with the addition of harpsichord or organ continuo, and the balance here seems to me to be very good indeed. The harpsichord is used appropriately to add rhythmic bounce and some harmonic richness and sparkle to the whole effect. It is not too prominent, mixing in with the string texture in an unobtrusive manner. I certainly prefer this approach to the twangy arpeggios in the opening Largo of Iona Brown’s Concerto No.9 by way of comparison – the ability of this instrument to mix also being hampered somewhat by being stuck far out on the right channel. The Boston baroque harpsichord is centrally placed, and the same goes for the nicely rounded sounding organ which supports some of the slow movements, and even gets the solo in the short Largo of Concerto No.11. The period strings are perhaps not quite as rich-sounding as those of the ‘modern’ Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, but this is much as one would expect, and the benefit in transparency and contrast offers equal and sometimes emphatically greater rewards in return.
There is no lack of involvement in the playing either. Take the dramatic opening to the Concerto No.10, around which one could imagine the scenery of a grand opera gathering and taking shape before the entrance of some bearded deity. The conversations between solo and ripieno groups are done with wit and subtlety, without having the soloists shoved right under our noses. The balance is made through the dynamic sensitivity of the ensemble, as can clearly be heard in the gorgeous Andante of Concerto No.11.
Recorded in an intimate fashion but in a space which has plenty of acoustic volume to reflect some of those dramatic silences, such as in the opening of the Concerto No.12, I can find no fault with Telarc’s engineering. All in all, this is a life-enhancing disc, and I shall be making haste to complete the duo with volume 1.
Dominy Clements


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