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George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Organ Concertos, Op.4 (1735/36): No.3 in G minor, HWV 291 [13:11]; No.2 in B flat major, HWV 290 [11:38]; No.1 in G minor, HWV 289 [17:04]; No.5 in F major, HWV 293 [9:37]; No.6 in B flat major, HWV 294 [11:27]; No.4 in F major, HWV 292 [14:22]
Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone (organ)
rec. 10-12 June 2008 Bartholomäuskirche, Hallé, Germany. DDD
L'OISEAU-LYRE 478 1465 [77:27]

Experience Classicsonline

I love musical connections and this L'Oiseau-Lyre recording of the Handel Organ Concertos, Op.4 was made in Hallé the city of the composer's birth. In particular the Bartholomäuskirche is renowned as the wedding place of several generations of the Handel family.

Organ soloist Ottavio Dantone, who also directs the Accademia Bizantina, has chosen for this recording a positive organ, a 2007 copy of the small portable continuo organ without pedals that Handel would have typically used. The instrument by contemporary builder Khristian Wegscheider of Dresden is designed in the style of a small Bohemian positive organ with a modest number of six stops.

Founded in 1983 at Ravenna, Italy, Accademia Bizantina specialise in seventeenth and eighteenth century music and are one of the foremost period instrument ensembles on the scene today. On this recording for L'Oiseau-Lyre the modest forces of Accademia Bizantina employ 6 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 1 violone, 1 bassoon, 1 archlute, 1 harpsichord, 2 oboes and the B flat major Concerto requires 2 recorders.

Johann Mattheson the Hamburg composer and musicologist expressed the view that Handel was the greatest organist of his day comparable only with Johann Sebastian Bach. In view of his prowess on the organ it is surprising that Handel waited until around 1735/36 when he was nearly fifty before composing concertos specifically for the instrument. It seems that Handel would typically perform an organ concerto between the acts of an oratorio to help strengthen audience appeal for the concert. Musicologist Sir John Hawkins noted how an audience would especially enjoy the early part of the concerto when Handel might choose to improvise passages at the organ.

This opus 4 set like the majority of Handel's 16 or so Organ Concertos tends to follow the more established four movement, slow, fast, slow, fast design. Only the B Flat major Concerto No. 6 is cast in a three movement form. Handel often reused his music and it seems that the Concerto No.5 is reworking of an earlier sonata for recorder. In addition the Concerto No.6 was originally conceived as a harp concerto for inclusion in the ode Alexander's Feast (1736). I noted that the well known opening movement marked Andante allegro is often played in a splendid transcription for solo organ. Of special interest is the opening movement of the Concerto No.3 where in the form of a Concertino the parts for the solo violin and solo cello feature prominently.

Ottavio Dantone expertly directs his Accademia Bizantina from the keyboard in these Organ Concertos. He delivers brisk, lively and ebullient Allegros with the Adagios slow and relaxing in tempo; almost meditative in mood. With the lightness and delicacy of creamy porcelain and significant reserves of power available when needed the choice of the compact positive organ is eminently suited to these concertos. The Wegscheider organ is exceptional, never reedy or tinny, matched perfectly to the chapel rather than the cathedral proportions of the Handel family church at Hallé. As organ soloist Ottavio Dantone provides dexterous and often imaginative playing that is certainly out of the ordinary.

Those wanting a complete set of Handel's complete Organ Concertos might like to obtain the stimulating and crisply played period instrument set by soloist Simon Preston with The English Concert directed by Trevor Pinnock. Recorded in 1982/3 the generally well recorded 3 disc set is available on Deutsche Grammophon Archiv 'Trio' Series 469 358-2. Of note is another splendid period instrument recording from Ottavio Dantone in partnership with Viktoria Mullova are his 2007 accounts of J.S. Bach's six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord. The double set was recorded at the Alte Grieser Pfarrkirche in Bolzano, Italy on Onyx 4020.

I find it hard to imagine finer playing in these Handel Organ Concertos, Op.4 than this from Ottavio Dantone and the Accademia Bizantina for L'Oiseau-Lyre. The closely recorded sound quality from the Bartholomäuskirche in Hallé is of a high standard.

Michael Cookson 


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