Handel's Organ Concertos, Opp 4 & 7
The Gramophone Choice
Organ Concertos, Op 7. Concerto in F, ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’, HWV295. Chaconne, HWV442. Chaconne, HWV485. Fugue, HWV264
Academy of Ancient Music / Richard Egarr org/hpd
Harmonia Mundi HMC80 7447/8 (128’ · DDD/DSD) Buy from Amazon
Richard Egarr and the AAM have prepared their own performing edition of Handel’s Op 7 Organ Concertos, which has involved spontaneously creating ad libitum passages, or choosing other bits of Handel for the slow movements. The rich-sounding forces comprise 18 players, including oboes and bassoons; both their playing and Egarr’s solo contributions are of an impeccably high order.
Taking his cue from Charles Burney’s eyewitness accounts of Handel’s own performances, Egarr takes a bold, improvisatory approach to the concertos. The allegro movements are enlivened by rapid keyboard flourishes, liberal ornamentation (especially during repeats of whole sections) and delightful variants to the basic printed rhythms in the manner of French Baroque composers. Particularly startling is the opening bitonal chord cluster of the A major Concerto, Op 7 No 2; Egarr acknowledges his debt to the 17th/18th-century writer Roger North for this daring harmonic gesture. On a lighter note, listeners will enjoy all the cuckoo calls plus other birdsong motifs that crop up during the Cuckoo and the Nightingale Concerto in F.
Throughout the two CDs, tempi are beautifully judged, with a degree of flexibility and an avoidance of excessive speeds in the fast movements. In the three works for solo harpsichord, Egarr’s calm, measured pacing allows Handel’s music to flow clearly and effortlessly. The opportunity to hear the splendid Chaconne in G, HWV442, is highly rewarding; and, as Egarr points out, it uses the same bass-line and harmonic progression as the first eight bars of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Egarr’s booklet-notes and a lovely collection of paintings featuring 18th-century London make for a booklet whose excellence matches that of the distinguished music-making. The recording is highly detailed – possibly a bit too close-up for some listeners. Full marks to Egarr for his choice of the 1998 Handel House Museum organ for the concertos; this modern British instrument is a copy of the type of chamber organ known to Handel. This is a superb set from all concerned.
Organ Concertos, Op 4 – No 1 in G minor; No 2 in B flat; No 3 in G minor; No 4 in F; No 5 in F. Op 7 – No 1 in B flat; No 2 in A; No 3 in B flat; No 4 in D minor; No 5 in G minor; No 6 in B flat. Harp Concerto in B flat, Op 4 No 6
Paul Nicholson org Frances Kelly hp Brandenburg Consort / Roy Goodman hpd
Hyperion Dyad CDD22052 (154' · DDD). Buy from Amazon
This recording was made at St Lawrence, Whitchurch, on an organ Handel must certainly have played. It sounds well under Paul Nicholson’s hands. There’s plenty of brightly glittering passagework and rich diapason sound in such movements as the passacaglia-like first of Op 7 No 1; while the softer side of the instrument is particularly appealing in Op 4 No 5, where Nicholson, doubtless conscious that this is a transcription of a recorder sonata, draws from it some very sweet sounds. It has a mechanical action, and here and there the incidental noise may be disconcerting. Still, it’s authentic, so possibly we should be grateful to have it reproduced. There’s some very lively and at times virtuoso playing from Nicholson in the quick movements, with sturdy rhythms, and some of the dance movements go with a good swing too.
Nicholson gives good, precise accounts of the various solo fugues and the transcriptions and improvisatory movements used here when Handel offered merely an ad lib. He’s a thoughtful player; his added ornamentation is always musical, intelligent and stylish. However, in several movements, over-deliberate orchestral phrasing or accentuation can be damaging; this happens quite often and sometimes affects Nicholson’s playing. Op 4 No 6 is played on the harp, with some very delicate timing from Frances Kelly. The bright, clear recording captures happily the acoustic of this moderate-sized church.
Organ Concertos, Op 4
Matthew Halls org Sonnerie / Monica Huggett vn
Avie AV2055 (73’ · DDD) Buy from Amazon
Matthew Halls, using a fascinating Dutch chamber organ which is perfect for the intimately balanced ensemble, plays with admirable delicacy and affection. These chamber performances are smaller than those Handel would have directed but one never feels that Sonnerie are weak or underpowered.