For the first part of his career in London, Handel's
main focus was the Italian opera and all other strands of his
career were tangential. This means that when his music was published,
it was usually in pirate editions. But from the 1730s he developed
more of an interest in this non-operatic side of his career. His
music had received extra public exposure as a result of the coronation
of George II, and Handel may also have had more interest in the
potential value of bringing his music before a wider audience
as the problems of staging Italian opera increased.
The Concerti Grossi Opus 3 were published by
John Walsh in 1734. Walsh had previously issued sets of instrumental
sonatas and trio sonatas as Handel's Opus 1 and Opus 2, but he
went on to compromise the Opus 3 designation by attaching this
also to a set of keyboard works. Walsh obviously had access to
Handel to get the music for the Concerti Grossi, so in this sense
the work is not a pirate edition. But it is unlikely that Handel
took an active interest in preparing the publication. He did not
do this until he prepared the Opus 4 organ concertos for publication.
Handel's disengagement from the production is rather indicated
by the mix up over the 6th concerto grosso where Walsh
linked two mis-matched movements together, one of which was actually
intended for an organ concerto. The music was not newly composed,
but was simply an assemblage of works composed for other occasions,
some of it possibly 20 years old. But that is not to say that
the individual concertos in the set are not brilliant and effective.
Concerto Grosso no. 1 may have been composed
in Hannover. Its scoring includes two viola range parts in different
clefs, something that links them to works by Venturini, a leading
Hannoverian court musician. The attractive 2nd concerto
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. 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'. Some groups have recorded
the whole of the original concerto, but here the Franz Liszt Chamber
Orchestra just give us the concerto as printed by Walsh.
This lovely music is strong enough to take a
variety of performances. On this disc, the Franz Liszt Chamber
Orchestra give a stylish, if rather old fashioned performance.
This is big-band Handel, but played crisply, with a sense of style
and not much string vibrato. Speeds are generally on the moderate
side and the only major drawback is that some of the faster movements,
such as the Allegro from concerto no. 2, come over as rather heavy.
This is more a matter of playing style than actual speed, as the
performances by TafelMusik under Jeanne Lamon come in at only
2 minutes shorter for the whole set. The orchestra contribute
some fine soloists, the oboist particularly distinguishing himself
in the glorious solos that Handel gives him, such as the Largo
in the 2nd concerto.
During the 1747/1748 season, Handel gave the
oratorios 'Judas Maccabeus', 'Joshua' and 'Alexander Balus' with
new orchestral concertos rather than the organ concertos which
he more familiarly played between the acts of the oratorios. In
these orchestral concertos, answering choirs of wind instruments
are marked Chorus 1 and Chorus 2. There is no certainty as to
why Handel wrote the concertos, but possibly he had more available
wind players than usual, perhaps guardsmen from units disbanded
after the success in putting down the '45 rebellion.
Each of the three concertos is of the same form.
An opening Overture type movement is followed by a miscellany
of shorter movements, generally extrovert with a central slow
movement. The movements were mainly orchestral versions of choruses
from recent oratorios, including 'Messiah', 'Belshazzar' and the
'Occasional Oratorio'. Throughout his career Handel borrowed thematic
material from himself and other people to kick-start his inspiration,
but the case of the 'Concerti a due chori' is different, they
should more be thought of as songs from the shows. Toe-tapping
arrangements of hit numbers from past shows, played during the
intervals whilst the audience socialised, flirted and chatted.
The performances by the Neues Bachiches Collegium
Musicum are rather less infectious than those of the Franz Liszt
Chamber Orchestra in the Opus 3 Concertio. The Neues Bachiches
Collegium Musicum give very solid, big band performances but without
the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra's feeling of style and crispness.
Again this is a matter of style and personal preference, but these
20 year old performances must have seemed a little old fashioned
when they first came out. Besides style, the issue here is one
of speed. Five years after these performances were recorded, Christopher
Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music recorded the concerti
for Decca in performances which knock nearly 10 minutes of the
running time of the concerti. But listening to these concertos,
even in these rather ponderous performances, is still a charming
experience. Suddenly, arrangements of familiar choruses from "Messiah'
crop up and make you stop and smile. Surely this was Handel's
intention and it works even under Max Pommer's rather dead hand.