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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Concerti Grossi Op 6
Boyd Neel Orchestra
Boyd Neel
Recorded 1936-1938
PEARL GEMM CDS 9164 [2 CDs: 159.24]


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Boyd Neel was closely associated with Handelís Concerti Grossi op 6. This first traversal, recorded between 1936 and 1938 and issued piecemeal by Decca was followed by a set made toward the end of the 78 era, between 1950 and 1953. First issued on 78s it was subsequently collected on LP in 1955 and is a really splendid achievement. For the earlier set, the subject of this release, Neelís stalwart young soloists make a fine showing. The imaginative and audible harpsichord continuo soloist Ė contrast with the near inaudible Horszowski on the Busch set of Op 6 on Pearl Gemm CD 9296 review Ė is Arnold Goldsborough and violinists include Frederick Grinke, David Martin and Louis Willoughby whilst cellists include James Whitehead and Peter Bevan.

In Op 6 No 1 Neel is much slower and more emphatic than Busch; as the movement develops Neel is also heavier in texture and weight of string tone as well as being less athletically expressive. Many of these points of contrast apply throughout the set though itís not universally the case that Neelís tempi are slower than Buschís Ė sometimes itís very much the other way around. There is not always, however, consistency of tempo-related decision-making in evidence and as a result both can sound unidiomatic to our ears Ė not that thatís necessarily the point. Expressive indulgence toward slow movements results sometimes in congealing tempi Ė combined with the tonal weight of the Neel orchestra this could lead to the Larghetto of the G Minor lasting six minutes, even then, I suspect, an unsustainably slow tempo, especially related to the surrounding movements.

There is nevertheless much to savour and admire in these pioneering performances. They stand at a point where understanding of performance practice had yet to be transformed by developments in technique. But no one should underestimate them Ė or indeed Neelís later, more perfectly realized set.

Jonathan Woolf


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