George Frideric HANDEL
Oboe Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, HWV 301 [8:13]
Oboe Concerto No. 2a in B flat major, HWV 302a [8:35]
Oboe Concerto No. 3 in G minor, HWV 387 [10:12]
Largo in F major (Fragment from Op. 3 No. 2b) [2:25] Alcina: Overture; Il Ballo; Act III Music; Dream Music [23:58]
Ariodante : Overture; Sinfonia pastorale; Rondeau
I, Rondeau II, Finale [17:33] Il pastor fido : Pour les Chasseurs I & II
CD 2 Berenice: Overture, Menuet, Gigue [9:36] Solomon: Sinfonia - Arrival of the Queen of Sheba [3:08]
Concerto a due cori No. 1, HWV 332 [15:27] Concerto a due cori No. 2, HWV 333 [15:31] Concerto a due cori No. 3, HWV 334 [16;12]
Overture in D, HWV 337/339 [5:38]
Concerto grosso in C, HWV 318 'Alexander's Feast' [12:59]
Roger Lord (oboe);
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner.
rec. March 1964 (Berenice), April 1965 (Oboe concertos, Largo),
August 1971 (Solomon), December 1979 (Ariodante, Il
pastor fido), December 1971 (Alcina), January 1979 (remainder).
ADD. DECCA ELOQUENCE
480 1388 [74:54+79:10]
According to the publicity material, “of immense interest
to the collector will be Marriner's Argo disc of 'ballet
music' - overtures and orchestral interludes from Alcina,
Ariodante and Il pastor fido, appearing complete for the first
time on CD.” Well, yes, up to a point, though the operative
word is 'complete': some of these items have already appeared
on an earlier Australian Eloquence CD in company with Gluck's
Don Juan ballet music (476 244-0). My colleague Stephen
Vasta didn't like either the performance or the recording
of the Gluck but was more impressed with the Handel: in fact,
he thought “it might be worth waiting for Decca to reissue
ZRG 686, which also included the overture and ballet music from
Alcina, in its entirety. It'd be worth the wait, especially
if filled out with, say, Marriner's Royal Fireworks Music.”
Well, he hasn't got all of that wish, but a substantial part
of it has been fulfilled.
Paul Shoemaker was also impressed with the performances and recording
of the Handel items on that earlier Eloquence CD - see review
- as also was Göran Forsling - see review.
GF's one reservation was that “Period instruments might
have given some added edge to the performances but for fine middle
of the road performances on modern instruments this is hard to
beat.” Right on both counts; I'll return to this point
in considering the performances of the Concerti a due cori
on this new 2-disc reissue.
The ballet music from ZRG686 concludes CD1 (tracks 14-21). When
that Argo LP first appeared in 1972, and again when it was reissued
in 1980, it received almost universal praise, which it still deserves.
I wasn't at all troubled by the ornamentation and double-dotting
which received some criticisms then - they really aren't obtrusive
and, in any case, the style of Handel's ballet music ultimately
stems from that of the French composers of the previous century.
The lightness of touch which was praised then is something we
have come to take for granted even more in later versions, as
on a mid-price Warner CD of much the same repertoire (Alcina,
Terpsichore and Il pastor fido) with The English
Baroque Soloists and John Eliot Gardiner. Some dealers still have
those versions of the ballet music on a single mid-price CD (2564
603352); otherwise it comes as part of two apparently identical
but differently numbered super-bargain 6-CD packages (2564 696208
and 2564 698383, both with L'Allegro, etc.) If I express
a slight preference for those EBS recordings, it's because
the original instruments just tilt the balance. I have fewer reservations
than Johan van Veen expressed in his review
of this Gardiner CD, except to point out that a playing time of
47 minutes is rather mean. If you can't find the single disc,
it can be downloaded for £3 from warner.freshdigital.co.uk.
The earliest items on the Eloquence reissue, the Oboe concertos
and the Berenice and Solomon items, appeared in
1965 on ZRG5442 to well-nigh rapturous welcome. The ASMF was then
at the cutting edge of presenting baroque music, Handel in particular,
without the ultra-seriousness which characterised earlier performances.
This stylish version of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
still holds its own and even now there isn't a great deal
of competition for the Oboe concertos - the versions on Naxos
8.553430 from Anthony Camden/Northern Sinfonia/Nicholas Ward and
Regis RRC1106, from Sarah Francis/London Harpsichord Ensemble,
are the most easily accessible and inexpensive.
These early ASMF performances seem a little less special now -
even just a little square, especially by comparison with some
recent accounts by Italian ensembles which have rather divided
critical opinion - but they are still very well worth hearing.
When, in 1988, Decca assembled a programme entitled A Baroque
Weekend, they turned to the ASMF performances of The Arrival
of the Queen of Sheba and Oboe Concerto No.3 for the
central portion of that CD (417 688-2, reissued as The Best
of Baroque, Eloquence 461 139-2). Having said that the ASMF
sound less enthralling now, I must admit that, after trying out
their Handel on that earlier disc, I played it through to the
end to hear the two Vivaldi performances which conclude it. How
about an ASMF Vivaldi set now, Eloquence, to satisfy those who
have enjoyed your Best of Baroque and the selection from
the ASMF's Op.3, L'estro armonico (467 432-2, Nos.
1-3,6, 8, 10-12) and wish to explore Vivaldi further?
There is a recommendable period-performance recording of two of
the Concerti a due cori, nos. 2 and 3, from the English
Concert/Trevor Pinnock on mid-price Archiv Masters 447 2802, available
for around £8 and also from passionato.com
as a good-quality 320k mp3 download. Those Pinnock performances
are coupled with Simon Preston's versions of the Coronation
Anthems, which, highly recommendable as they are, may involve
duplication with, for example, the splendid recent version by
The Sixteen on Coro (COR16066), my Download of the Month in my
These Concerti a due cori are highly enjoyable, even if
they do involve the recycling of a good deal of familiar material,
such as Lift up your heads, O ye gates, from Messiah
- but what superb recycling it is. If you don't know them,
you ought to repair the omission. The Marriner reissue will give
you a very good idea of their quality, but I think the Pinnock
versions make them sparkle just that little more. Then there's
the excitement of the English Concert's natural horns, like
cornering just slightly too fast - will they make it? (They do.)
I don't want to make Marriner sound four-square - his tempi
are very similar to Pinnock's - but it's worth the duplication
for the little extra that the Archiv CD or download brings.
After all, you can have the 2-CD Eloquence set and the Archiv
together for less than £14. All three discs are well filled,
with over 72 minutes on the Archiv reissue and even more on each
of the Eloquence CDs. In fact, you'll need both: only the
Eloquence set includes the first Concerto a due cori, with
its bouncy version of And the glory of the Lord from Messiah
(tr.4) I can't imagine even Pinnock doing this better than
Marriner and the ASMF do here.
The second CD is rounded off with very good performances of the
Overture in D and the Concerto Grosso in C, HWV318,
known as Alexander's Feast because of its employment
as interval music for that oratorio. The original-instrument version
of this concerto by Simon Standage and Collegium Musicum 90 on
Chandos CHAN0622, coupled with excellent versions of the Concerti
Grossi, Op.6/10-12, is a little more sprightly, though there
isn't much in it. I hope to look at the Standage Op.6 set
in a forthcoming Download Roundup; he shaves 9 seconds off Marriner's
time for the opening Allegro, but I defy anyone to find
the latter sluggish or unstylish.
As my colleagues have indicated in the case of those items which
appeared in tandem with Gluck, the Argo/Decca recordings throughout
belie their age apart from a little tubbiness in the bass - the
more sensitive of my systems emphasises this more than the other.
Raymond Tuttle's notes are brief but informative, though they
are silent about the two works which conclude CD2, and the whole
set is presented as attractively as is usual with Eloquence. I
can't imagine anyone being seriously disappointed with this
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