Handel's Op. 3 Concerti
Grossi are quite well served on disc,
although not as well as his later Op.
6 set. Among the discs already in the
catalogue, this new release from Challenge
Classics emerges as one of the best
of the available period ensemble performances.
De Vriend, from his
violin, leads lithe and limber accounts
of these charming concerti. Tempi are
well judged, though not overly quick,
and rhythms are strongly pointed. The
playing of Combattimento Consort Amsterdam
is also very assured – it is a long
time since I have heard such precise
tuning and unanimity of ensemble. De
Vriend has a silvery, sometimes thin
tone which almost makes one wish for
a little sinful vibrato in places, but
this is no real cause for concern. There
is a real feeling of musical conversation
in these performances. The interaction
of oboe, bassoon and violin in fourth
movement of the second concerto is a
case in point. I could recite further
felicities of this disc, but the playing
throughout is consistently excellent.
The ornamentation employed by the ensemble
is restrained and tasteful.
Similarly, the sound
quality of this recording is fabulous.
I do not have the necessary equipment
to enjoy the full benefits of SACD sound,
but the stereo recording is very impressive.
The perspective is not so much front
row seating as rostrum – the listener
stands where Combattimento Consort Amsterdam's
conductor would, if they had one. Each
instrumental line emerges with perfect
clarity. The balance is superb and the
acoustic warm. No complaints.
Well, one complaint.
A minor one, and very much a personal
one. As the intelligent liner notes
disclose, Handel wrote these delightful
pieces to keep his coffers full between
the decline in the popularity of his
operas and the explosion of his oratorios.
They are full of attractive music, most
of which Handel pilfered from his own
operas (number 4 is an exception to
this). This is light-hearted fare, which
benefits from an unbuttoned approach.
De Vriend and Co. tend take it a little
too seriously. They could afford to
let go in the allegros, and smile more
in the andantes. Instead they deliver
earnest, tasteful performances that
do not disappoint, but do not thrill
If you are looking
for an immaculately played period ensemble
recording of these delightful Concerti
Grossi in excellent sound, you are unlikely
to do much better than this one. Not
exciting, perhaps, but very satisfying.