George Frideric Handel's keyboard music suffers neglect for two major
reasons. Firstly, he is largely overshadowed by his contemporary Johann
Sebastian Bach whose vast catalogue of keyboard music is widely performed
and recorded. It is regarded as essential study for all professional and
aspiring pianists and harpsichordists. Furthermore, Bach is considered to
have substantial intellectual and transcendental content denied to Handel.
At present, the Arkiv catalogues lists nearly ten times the number of CDs
devoted to Bach's keyboard works as to Handel's. Some of Handel's Suites
have only two currently available recordings. Secondly, Handel's other music
has 'overshadowed' his contribution to the keyboard repertoire. Listeners
are more likely to turn to his Water
and Firework Music
and even the operas rather than devote time to his
Handel wrote a great deal for the harpsichord including around 25 suites
and many smaller standalone pieces such as lessons, chaconnes, fugues and
fantasias. Musicologists divide the Suites into a number of collections.
Firstly there are the 'Eight Great Suites' (HWV 426-33) published in 1720.
There were followed some thirteen years later by another six which are
dubbed 'The Second Collection' (1733). There are also many other individual
suites. The dating of all these works is fraught with difficulties. Rowland
suggests that some were composed before Handel left Germany bound for Italy
in 1707. The remainder were 'probably' written in England after he settled
there in 1712. The present CD includes the last examples of the genre (Suite
in D minor, HWV 447 and the Suite in G minor, HWV 452) that Handel wrote
around 1739 for Princess Louise, the daughter of King George II.
The Suites themselves are different to Bach's examples. They are designed
with less concern for perpetuating the historic 'dance' movements. Although
Handel made extensive use of these, he also introduced chaconnes, variations
and fugues into his suites. The liner-notes point out that the one work the
Suite in F (HWV 427), not on this CD; actually contain none of the
traditional movements. Another feature of these suites is the duration. They
range from Suite in G minor, HWV 451 at just under six minutes to the
massive Suite in D minor, HWV 449 which is just shy of 24 minutes.
I do not intend to major on each individual Suite. The present selection
is made from both the principal collections as well as the miscellaneous
group. The second disc concludes with the massive Chaconne and 62 variations
from Suite in G major, HWV 442. The CD is worth buying for this alone and
Rowland's playing is admirable throughout.
These suites are played on a two-manual French harpsichord 'after
Goermans' of Paris (1750) built by Andrew Wooderson
The sound of this instrument is simply stunning: it has been superbly
Gilbert Rowland made his debut at Fenton House, Hampstead in 1970 and
first appeared at the Wigmore Hall in 1973. He has given many recitals and
broadcasts over the years which have established his reputation as one of
the leading harpsichordists in the United Kingdom. His recordings include
music by Soler, Scarlatti and Rameau.
The liner-notes, written by Rowland are most helpful. After a short
overview of the genre, he gives a succinct description of each of the
suites. These notes are also printed in French and German. There is a colour
copy of Philippe Mercier's (1689-1760) well-known painting of the
I have not heard the
first two volumes of this cycle of Suites
However, based on this present two CD I can only imagine that they will be