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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Brilliant Classics

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Concerti Grossi, Opus 3

Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra/Jànos Rolla
Recorded 1984, Hungaroton
Concerti a due Cori

Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum/Max Pommer
Recorded 1980, Leipzig
Brilliant Classics Handel Edition Volumes 30 and 31
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99777-30/31 [2 CDs: 58.33, 50.55]


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.

Robert Hugill

 



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