Handel: Organ Concertos Op.7 Hybrid SACD - DSD, Import
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Handel: Organ Concertos, Op. 7
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Handel's last great published set of instrumental concertos arrived posthumously in 1761. Played here on a chamber organ with real-time improvisations and enlarged continuo support, these magnificent concertos (including the beloved 'The Cuckoo and the Nightingale') show Handel at his glorious and compositional best, and allow a concentrated view of his style from the last 20 years of his life.
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Handel was a prodigious composer, but he focused much of his time on the development of oratorios and operas. As everyone knows, Handel's genius shines forth in many of those works, and to know them is a real joy. But Handel was also a master of orchestral music: these works are so amazing that we often find ourselves wishing that he had spent just a little bit more time focusing on this genre. The Concerto Grossi opus 6, for example, is just one example of what Handel could do when he decided to compose for the orchestra. His opus 3 Concerto Grossi are another example, as are also his Concerto a Due Cori pieces. And here, his wonderful organ concertos help round out the set.
The Academy of Ancient Music, now under the direction of Richard Egarr, recently completed a new recording cycle that covers all Handel's opus 1 through 7 orchestral works, and this recording, the opus 7 Organ Concertos, shine as brightly as the rest of this highly acclaimed recording cycle. The decision to record this series was a welcome one, for there has been far too little current Handelian recording efforts these days (much of the Handelian recording cycles were accomplished to well deserved critical acclaim back in the 1980's in Gardener's, Pinnock's, and Hogwood's cycles, amongst others), and this fact helps us accept the relatively high cost of these new AAM disks. Yes, the cost can be high, but if this is what it takes to support a new generation of players recording Handel with the latest in electronic recording technology, it is certainly well worth it. This recording is superlative in every sense, and if one listens with a keen ear towards recognizing the recording itself, it can be seen what advances have been made in recording technology over the years.
You say that you're not an organ fan? Well, I've not been one, either, but this set may make you change your mind. These pieces are gorgeous, witty, dramatic, and sometimes, even humorous. You find yourself, as often we do with Handel, drawn into a world of musical beauty, and the experience can be simply amazing. These pieces show what Handel could do with an orchestra and with the organ, as well. (Since Handel himself was an expert organist, one of the best in all of Europe at the time, we can only imagine the fun - and that's the world for it, to be sure - Handel himself must have enjoyed when he played these pieces himself, which he almost certainly did.
As most every recording in this AAM series of Handel's orchestral works, this entry easily rates as five stars for the performance, and five stars for the recording. It's a wonderful and masterful addition to the library of Handel recordings. It's worth every pence.
Other Disks in the AAM's Handel-Opus-Number Series:
Handel: 12 Solo Sonatas, Op. 1Aca
Handel: Concerti Grossi, Op. 3; Sonata a 5
Handel: Organ Concertos, Op. 4 [Hybrid SACD]
Trio Sonatas Opp. 2 & 5
Handel - Concerti grossi, op. 6 / AAM · Manze
My reference recordings are those of Daniel Chorzempa with Jaap Schroeder leading the Concerto Amsterdam released on Philips LPs in the late 1970s. Philips quadraphonic tapes are now available on four Pentatone SACDs and sound as though they were recorded yesterday. The performances on a slightly larger circa 1780 Amsterdam organ are akin to Egarr's sprightly readings. Chorzempa ornaments but opts for interpolations from Handel's music rather than improvising at Handel's ad libitim opportunities. The Amsterdam orchestra is similarly virtuosic and the two traversals,Harmonia Mundi and Philips, are both extremely satisfying.
Egarr opts to fill out the present set with "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale" (HWV 295 and also numbered as Organ Concerto No. 13) and three substantial harpsichord works. In addition to the twelve concertos in Op. 4 & 7, and No. 13, there are five additional Handel "organ concertos." Set Number Two was published by Handel's publisher Walsh in 1740 and includes six pieces: No. 13, and arrangement for organ and orchestra of Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 11 (No.14), and four solo organ arrangements of concertos from Opus 6. The Arnold (1797)edition appeared long after Handel's death (1759)and consists of two pieces for organ and orchestra traditionally numbered as Nos. 15 and 16. No. 16 is an adaptation of the Concerto a due cori No. 3, and although the organ is featured, the concerto is really one for two solo horns. Egarr's exclusion of Nos. 14-16 in favor of the harpsichord pieces is certainly justified.
Owners of Egarr's sets of Op 4 & 7 might consider acquiring Volume 4 of the Pentatone set (available separately) that includes Nos. 14-16 to complete the collection of Handel's concertos for organ and orchestra.