Handel: Organ Concertos Op. 4
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Handel's Op. 4 Organ Concertos were the first works of their kind ever written--at least as far as we know. Actually, one of these pieces is a harp concerto, but it can be played on any type of keyboard instrument, as can any of these pieces. There is a fine set of both the Op. 4 and Op. 7 concertos on Hyperion featuring the Hanover Band. Bob van Asperen has also recorded the Op. 7 concertos, but at full price these two sets become rather expensive, particularly as his performances aren't better than the competition. --David Hurwitz
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It doesn't get much better than this! Handel was, from his youth, an organ virtuoso, and during his stay in Rome at the beginning of the 18th century, he took part in a competition against Domenico Scarlatti, the famous composer of harpsichord sonatas. The result was clear: Handel was declared the winner on the organ, while Scarlatti was considered to have emerged triumphant on the harpsichord. The careers of the two men, both of the same age, were to develop very differently. Whereas Scarlatti went to Spain and wrote over 500 sonatas, Handel became London's leading opera impresario, composing a large number of "opera seria" and, later in life, his famous English oratorios. It was in the 1730's that Handel put together his first set of organ concertos, using them to entertain his public during the breaks in performances of operas and oratorios. Not everything in them was newly composed: Concerto No. 3 is based on an earlier trio sonata, for example, and No. 6 is the organ version of Handel's harp concerto.
Bob van Asperen is, it seems to me, an ideal interpreter of these gorgeous little works, and I am pretty sure that Handel himself would have loved this CD. (Mr. Hurwitz should realize that van Asperen also only needs three CDs for all of Handel's Organ Concertos; there is a 2-CD set of Opus 7 available.) The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is one of England's leading period-instrument ensembles, here consisting of seven violins, two violas, two cellos, a double bass, two recorders or oboes, a bassoon, a harpsichord and a theorbo. Virgin kindly give not only the names of the illustrious early music experts who play these instruments but also the details of when and where or by whom the instruments were made. The sound is just what an "ancient music" fan like me is looking for: silvery strings, light, wooden winds, a resonant harpsichord - and then that superb solo organ (made by Goetz and Gwynne in 1985 after 17th century models). Bob van Asperen plays with verve and delicacy, and as the engineering is well-nigh perfect, the whole is one of those delights for the ears that any fan of baroque music will gladly fork out for. All six concertos are wonderful, but numbers 1 and 6 bear special mention, the second of these being the organ version of the harp concerto (which has been so wonderfully recorded for EMI/Virgin by the Taverner Players under Andrew Parrott) . What a treat. After listening to this, I couldn't resist ordering the Opus 7 CDs too.Pachelbel's Canon and Other Baroque Favorites Handel: Organ Concertos Op. 7
As to this recording: The orchestra is precise, nimble, plays in tune (sometimes laking in period performances), and has a nice overall sound. The organ playing is generally quite wonderful; the quick passages are handled with much fluidity and grace. My one minor criticism is that some of the slower movements seem a bit wooden or stiff.
Overall, a fine recording of some delightful Handel bravura.
To those who enjoy recordings on period instruments, this is a recording you might very much enjoy. It is a delightful set of pieces, particularly the Concerto for Organ, Op. 4, no. 4. This particular concerto is alone worth the price of the CD.