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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Concerti Grossi, Op. 3 (1734) [70.27]
Linde Consort/Hans-Martin Linde
rec. 1985
VIRGIN CLASSICS 59099 699472 2 3 [70.27]
Experience Classicsonline

It is unlikely that Handel took an active role in the publication of his Concerti Grossi, Op. 3, though the music contained therein is vintage Handel. In 1734, when they were published, their publisher, John Walsh, was essentially still producing pirate editions of Handel's works. But Handel had started take an interest in the non-operatic side of his career. Chamber music was gaining wider exposure and Handel - who always had an eye to the main chance - may have seen this as a way of compensating for the problems in his operatic career, as well as seeing a commercial opportunity. He took an active role in Walsh's next publication, the Op. 4 Organ Concerti. Handel probably did not choose Walsh as his official publisher; rather he tacitly recognised Walsh's pre-eminent position as the most successful pirate music publisher of his works. In Georgian England, copyright protection for composers was rather limited and not very well enforced.

The Concerti Grossi Op. 3 are rather a mixed bag of pieces from various parts of Handel's career. Number 1 may have been composed in Hanover as it includes two viola range parts in different clefs, something that links them to works by Venturini, a leading Hannoverian court musician. The attractive Concerto No. 2 was probably written for the orchestra at the Haymarket theatre in 1718/19 and uses movements from one version of the overture to the Brockes Passion. Concertos 3 and 5 are both arranged from music that Handel originally wrote for the anthems for Cannons, the home of the Duke of Chandos (the so-called 'Chandos Anthems'). The first two movements of no. 3 are arranged from this source and the last movement is based on a keyboard fugue from the same period - in an arrangement that may not even be Handel's. Concerto No. 5 is simply taken bodily from one of the Cannons' manuscripts - where it is called a sonata. No. 4 was originally the second overture to the opera Amadigi, performed in 1716. In the very first edition of the work, this concerto was replaced by another in the same key, of unknown provenance. This was soon corrected and all Walsh's later editions of the concerto include the familiar one. On this disc, the Linde consort play the correct no 4, as well as giving us the pseudo one which they label 4a.

The most problematic concerto is the last, where a single movement taken from a three movement concerto is attached to a second movement based on an organ concerto. Handel had split the first movement off from its siblings when he used it in 'Ottone'. This confusion of movements on Walsh's part probably reflects Handel's partial disengagement from the production of the publication. Walsh must have had access to Handel to get the requisite copies of the pieces, but Handel certainly did not oversee the results.

This disc contains music that was originally issued in 1985 on two discs. When new, the set contained the Op. 3 concertos as well as the Concerto Grosso in C major from Alexander's Feast but this seems to have been dropped off in order to fit the music onto one CD.

Creditable though these performances are, I cannot really get terribly excited about them. When first issued these recordings were considered too sober and I must confess that I concur. Since 1985 a number of fine performances have been issued on CD, though my preferred one remains that of Tafelmusik. Linde gets good playing from his instrumentalists and there is some beautiful solo playing. But too often speeds seem too steady and the atmosphere solidly sober. Even the lovely Largo movements in numbers 1 and 2 fail to quite take wing, despite some fine solo oboe playing. Perhaps Linde's fault is that he fails to make anything of the operatic links in these pieces. These Largo movements are almost operatic aria transcriptions and we fail to get the beauty and glowing textures which the best groups can bring to them.

On the plus side, this is a budget price disc, so you get a great deal of rather sober, entirely acceptable music-making for not too much money. If you started off with this disc you might find the performances to your taste, but you would be really missing out on what the best groups bring to these. Tafelmusik imbue the faster movements with joie de vivre, and make the spine tingle in the slower movements.

The most attractive feature of this disc is its price. If you can afford it, then shop around for a more recent alternative.

Robert Hugill 


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