HANDEL Concerti a Due Cori
On the face of it, Handel’s three Concerti a due cori – by which he meant for two orchestras – ought to be as popular as the Water Music or the Music for the Royal Fireworks. With a similar sound-palette of strings, oboes, bassoons and horns, they inhabit the same world of joyous entertainment music, and there is no significant difference in Handelian quality. Neither can the fact that they are mostly arrangements of vocal numbers from the operas and oratorios be a reason for less attention from performers; snootiness over Handel’s recycling is wasted effort, and anyway what orchestral musician would not want to play ‘And the glory of the Lord’ or ‘Lift up your heads’?
This music, then, is gorgeous, friendly Handel from beginning to end, and maybe therein lies its Cinderella status. Composed to be played during the intervals of his oratorio performances, perhaps the concertos are a bit too relentlessly cheerful. I remember in the 1990s British Airways used to pipe the Op 3 concertos in the cabin as you taxied out but, presumably to keep you in an optimistic frame of mind, omitted the slow movements. A fine Andante larghetto in Concerto No 3 and a gentle siciliana in No 2 notwithstanding, there’s a similar feeling of over-positivity here too, as if you were being offered one of those packets of wine gums that only includes reds and blacks.
The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra are predictably assured performers of these pieces; the horns chortle and soar, there is some expert running oboe-playing in the last movement of No 2, the bass-lines buzz with intensity and overall the sound surges and sings. Compared to the almost-as-well-executed 1997 recording by Tafelmusik it is a touch opaque, and indeed the relative transparency and delicacy of the Canadians’ performance, together with a slightly stronger sense of storytelling, make it a strong alternative. But you wouldn’t be going wrong with either.