Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music start a new Handel recording project. Their first release is Handel's Concerti grossi, Op. 3 and the Sonata a 5. Richard Egarr is the new Music Director of the Academy of Ancient Music.
This new set of Handel's Op. 3 makes a superb case for these works (somewhat smaller than the more-familiar ones from Op. 6). Opus 3 is made up of assorted versions of concerti. Handel arranged and re-arranged many of these works often and so a definitive edition is probably impossible to assemble. Rather than being alarmed by the lack of similarities, we are treated to different combinations of instruments and different textures from movement to movement. Musicologists are bothered by who it was, precisely, that turned these concerti into a whole opus number. His publisher, John Walsh, claims responsibility, but did he do it with Handel's approval? We don't care. It's a delicious selection. Oboes, bassoons, and recorders are featured in the first, a solo flute brightens the third, while an organ improvisation shows up in the sixth to separate the first and last movements. Higher strings give energy to the opening of the second along with a pair of oboes, and the same combination darkens the second movement. The fourth has a prominent, propulsive harpsichord. A bonus is the composer's Sonata a 5, which is a sort of mini violin concerto. Richard Egarr is now in charge of the Academy of Ancient Music, and this, their first CD together, is remarkable on every level. The playing is terrific energized, elegant, full of splendid details and tasteful embellishments and the sonics are superb. The 11 string players, 7 woodwind players, and Egarr himself on organ and harpsichord, along with an archutenist and baroque guitarist, are spotlessly recorded, but with depth and warmth. This is irresistible. --Robert Levine