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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Concerti Grossi, Opus 3 Nos. 1-6
Northern Sinfonia
Bradley Creswick, director
Rec 2-4 May 1995, Jubilee Theatre, Gosforth, Tyne and Wear
NAXOS 8.553457 [54.03]

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Although it has taken six years from the date of recording to issue these performances on CD, they sound remarkably fresh, with the talents of the excellent Northern Sinfonia captured in good, atmospheric sound.

Handel's Opus 3 set of six concertos differ from the twelve grand concertos of Opus 6 in one crucial respect. Whereas the latter was planned and composed to form a collection, the former was gathered together by John Walsh, the composer's publisher. In that sense they are a motley collection rather than a coherent whole, but they are effective enough individually. The ensembles feature oboes with strings, and, in fact, for many years the tradition in England was to refer to them as oboe concertos. However, since the solo roles are sometimes fitful, the present titles, with a clear designation by opus number, are probably more appropriate.

These are stylish performances, and Bradley Creswick has achieved a most natural balance between winds and strings. The major caveat concerns the keyboard continuo, and is presumably to do with recording balance, since the instrument is so backwardly placed as to be almost inaudible. This is a pity, since the music loses much subtlety of texture. Otherwise the sound is rich and appealing, and there is a natural and highly effective dynamic range.

Creswick's choice of tempi always feel right, striking a good balance between activity and articulation in the faster music, while allowing the expression of the slower music to be felt. These maters are particularly tested in the multi-movement Concerto no. 2, in which there is a real sense of unity from a sequence of diverse movements.

That Naxos stalwart Keith Anderson provides accompanying notes which are detailed, readable and well-judged. This, then, is another appealing bargain from the remarkable Naxos catalogue.

Terry Barfoot

See also review by Peter Wells

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