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George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Solomon: The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (1749) [2:53]*
Trio Sonata in G minor, HWV 393: Largo (1720) [3:01]
Concerto for oboe d'amore and strings (Verdi prati) [12:53]
Rinaldo: Lascia ch'io pianga (1711) [4:04]
Concerto for flute, English horn, and strings (Amabile beltà) [14:30]+
Water Music Suite No. 3: Country Dance (1715) [1:49]
Concerto for oboe and strings (Voli per l'aria) [15:52]
Serse: Ombra mai fu (1738) [2:39]
Concerto for oboe, bassoon, harpsichord and continuo (Piagge serene) [14:14]^
Variations for oboe, bassoon and harpsichord, HWV 430 (Harmonious Blacksmith) [4:25]
Albrecht Mayer (oboe, oboe d'amore, English horn)
Arkadiusz Krupa (oboe)*
Matthieu Gauci-Ancelin (flute)+
Guillhaume Santana (bassoon)^
Sinfonia Varsovia
recording dates and venue not listed
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON G 00289 476 5681 [70:18] 

To address the main point immediately, this is beautiful music, beautifully played. The featured soloist, Albrecht Mayer, produces a lovely, liquid legato on his various double-reed instruments, and his phrasing is lyrical and plaintive. The various assisting artists are equally musical and technically accomplished - though in track 8 I found the flutist's rubato fitful and distracting - and the strings of the Sinfonia Varsovia provide handsomely manicured support, with just the occasional mild gruffness in the basses. If you enjoy polished, impeccably poised modern-instrument Baroque, this issue recommends itself, and you needn't read any further, though you probably will. 

More historically-minded listeners, however, may well be wondering from the headnote what exactly is on this disc. As the subtitles of the "concerti" might suggest, Handel intended most of this music for voices - specifically, as arias in his operas - rather than for instruments . In his program note, Mayer explains that these arias "captivated [him] years ago," and he wanted to "give [them] his own voice" as an instrumentalist. So, with the assistance of Andreas Tarkmann - who receives credit for most of the actual arrangements - Mayer has found a way to assimilate this music for his own use and, presumably, enjoyment. 

Of course, to imagine that these new constructions can pass for "real" Handel concerti involves a fair amount of wishful thinking. The tripartite da capo (ABA) aria format doesn't transfer successfully to instrumental music. After the strings' ritornello, the soloist's immediate repetition of the same theme sounds redundant; by the return of the opening "A" section, so does the entire structure, especially when you string three or four such pieces together. (And Mayer's ornaments, although apt enough, are mushy in contour and not particularly "vocal" in style, which can be bothersome in those arias one already knows: his Iris, hence away wouldn't have given Marilyn Horne any sleepless nights.) Nor is there any sense that the movements of any one "concerto" particularly belong together: the Water Music dance in track 12, for example, could just as easily be a part of the Amabile beltà concerto, on which it directly follows. The construction entitled Piagge serene works best, simply because three of its four movements are drawn from organ concerti rather than arias (but then whence its title?). 

Nonetheless, the custom of borrowing music, one's own or others' - think of Bach's concerti on themes of Vivaldi - for diverse uses was certainly alive and well in the Baroque, and these transcriptions follow neatly in that tradition. Mayer and Tarkmann's work here is arguably as valid as, say, Richard Stolzman's taking over the Mozart flute concerto for his clarinet, or James Galway's engaging in the reverse process. The musicologists wouldn't approve - but I assume I lost them back in the first paragraph, anyway, when I mentioned modern instruments. And the beautiful playing is a pleasure.

The recorded sound beguiles the ear, though headphone listening betrays a few otherwise well-concealed splices, and the bassoon assumes an unduly pungent prominence in Piagge serene.

Stephen Francis Vasta

 

 


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