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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ouverture in C major, HWV456 [6:03]
Fugue in E minor, HWV429 [4:03]
Sonata in G major, HWV579 [4:53]
Fugue in G minor, HWV605 [2:46]
Fantaisie in C major, HWV490 [4:43]
Fugue in G major, HWV606 [4:03]
Air in G minor, HWV466 [1:48]
Fugue in B-flat major, HWV607 [2:40]
Air in B-flat major, HWV470 [1:57]
Air in B-flat major, HWV469 [1:57]
Capriccio in G minor, HWV483 [1:51]
Chaconne in G major, HWV430 [4:06]
Fugue in B minor, HWV608 [4:17]
Air in G major, HWV474 [1:33]
Fugue in A minor, HWV609 [4:18]
Presto in D minor, HWV428 [5:12]
Sonata in C major, HWV578 [7:04]
Fugue in C minor, HWV610 [2:48]
Jesu meine Freude, HWV480 [1:37]
Passacaille in G minor, HWV432 [4:17]
John O’Donnell (organ)
Rec. 28-29 October 1999, Jürgen Ahrend organ, Monash University, Melbourne.
ABC CLASSICS ABC 476 1565 [71:56]

This, quite literally, is a joyful disc. Handel’s lack of true solo organ music is a direct result of his move to England, where the grand German tradition of bristling manuals and pedal registers in which his contemporary J.S. Bach flourished was far less fashionable. In fact, the Air in G major (HWV474) is Handel’s only solo keyboard work which includes notation for a pedal line. His keyboard works are more often than not performed and recorded on the harpsichord, so Handel fans and organ aficionados will be interested to hear some of these works in a new setting.

The booklet helpfully gives us the provenance of these pieces, and as was common with Handel, most of them are to be found in versions as part of other, larger works. Like many, I enjoy Handel’s zippy and uncomplicated idiom. John O’Donnell doesn’t burden the pieces with inappropriate ornamentation, but, in lacking almost any ornamentation whatsoever misses out a little on the virtuoso abandon of (say) Ton Koopman.

The only problem here is the programming. These pieces are almost uniformly cheerful, and O’Donnell’s excellent playing reflects this in a fairly light, bouncy style. The 1980 Jürgen Ahrend organ does have quite a bright sound in a not overly resonant acoustic, and at over 70 minutes the overall effect can become a little relentless. There is plenty of alternation between different registrations, and some sepulchral relief in Jesu meine Freude, but for serious listening it is hard to keep the happy face for longer than twenty minutes or so. There is also something strange going on with the Presto in D minor, HWV428. It is as if the Australian interrogative inflection has somehow entered the instrument, with a definite ‘U’ sweep in the big chords. Can it be that the air pump isn’t up to the job – or is the pressure too high? This pops up again in the final Passacaille. 16 seconds into the piece there are held chords with the passacaglia bass bouncing along underneath. Somehow the sostenuto part is pulled down with each entry of the bass notes, giving a weird momentary trampoline-vibrato effect. One for the organ technicians!

In general this is a fine disc, well played and with interesting repertoire presented in new clothes. As a whole it might be less entertaining than academic – previously the kind of thing that was the domain of the old DG Archiv or Telefunken ‘Das Alte Werk’ labels. It’s fun to dip into when the mood takes you, rather than having as ear candy while lying back in the bath with a glass of wine.

Dominy Clements


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