Boston’s Handel and
Haydn Society was founded in 1815 and
Christopher Hogwood became their director
in 1986, when they moved to performing
on period instruments. They recorded
Handel’s Op. 3 Concerti Grossi in 1988
and went on to record the Op. 6 Concerti
Grossi in 1991. Avie have now reissued
both recordings in this boxed set.
This pairing of both
sets raises some interesting issues
regarding the primacy (or not) of the
printed text over the composer’s autograph.
Handel came to publishing late and much
of his early work, if printed at all,
was issued in pirate editions. There
are indications that John Walsh’s publication
of the Op. 3 set was originally going
to be a pirate edition, but in the end
it was issued with Handel’s imprimatur.
But quite how much Handel had to do
with the set is debatable; Walsh undoubtedly
had access to Handel’s manuscripts but
it was Walsh who made the selection
... and published the wrong closing
movement for Concerto no. 6. Handel
certainly did not re-work the material
for publication as he did for the Op.
4 Organ Concertos which Walsh issued
after the Op. 3 Concerti Grossi.
So it should come as
no surprise that he wrote the Op. 6
Concerti Grossi for publication. Well,
up to a point. In fact, he needed a
draw for his 1739-40 season; his first
season of all-English, unstaged works.
So the Op. 6 concertos, with their Op.
no. recalling Corelli’s Op. 6 set of
12 string concertos, were designed to
appeal to the London cognoscenti. For
his theatre performances Handel performed
the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi with wind
parts, though they were printed as just
On this disc, the Haydn
and Handel Society ignore Walsh’s edition
of the Op. 3 concertos and return to
Handel’s orchestrations from manuscripts
ante-dating Walsh’s publication. They
also play the correct movements for
the 6th concerto. But for
the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi they ignore
Handel’s apparent intentions with regard
to wind parts and play the works just
So for the Op. 3 concertos,
printed with Handel’s imprimatur if
not his direct involvement, they perform
according to Handel’s manuscript intentions.
But for the Op. 6 set they ignore his
own performances and stick to the printed
These picky little
details need not matter if the performances
are good. And with works as great as
these there is plenty of room for a
variety of interpretation.
The recording of the
Op. 3 concertos was made with 14 violins,
5 violas, 4 cellos and 2 double basses.
The results are crisp, lively and attractive,
with some lovely solo playing. But what
struck me most, compared to a performance
such as that recorded by Tafelmusik
and Jeanne Lamon, was the sense of comfortable
amplitude as if recorded by a bigger
group - even though Tafelmusik are only
is crisper and more incisive, whereas
Hogwood and the Haydn and Handel Society
seem to be more mellow and equally appealing,
though there are occasionally hints
of instability in the string ensemble.
The feeling of mellow
amplitude carries over into the Op.
6 Concerti Grossi. Compared to Pinnock’s
recording with the English Concert,
the Haydn and Handel Society provide
a smoother string tone with more depth.
They have a soft grained delicacy in
the solo sections and there is a lovely
sense of line in all the string playing.
Whereas the English Concert are crisp
with lively articulation, the playing
vivid, more articulated than the Haydn
and Handel Society.
I enjoyed the performances
immensely and they provide a nice contrast
to my existing favourites. It is enterprising
of Avie to rescue them from Decca’s