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16.5.07

Handel's Op. 3

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Handel, Concerti Grossi, op. 3, Sonata a 5, Academy of Ancient Music, R. Egarr
(released February 13, 2007)
During a recent appearance at the National Gallery of Art, the Academy of Ancient Music performed some of Handel's op. 3 concerti grossi. The group's recording of the entire set of six concerti grossi was released earlier this year by Harmonia Mundi. Like so much old music, the score is rife with editorial issues, which the group's music director, Richard Egarr, glosses over cavalierly in his liner notes: "the Walsh parts (which we used for the recording) are easily corrected by anyone with half an ear." This kind of statement should signal that the methodology followed to arrive at this version of the score was less than scientific. That is to say, the spirit of the group's approach to the score is as to a thing less than sacred, guidelines more than a fixed text, indeed very close to the spirit of the Baroque period. An example is Egarr's moody organ improvisation that serves as the middle movement of the two-part sixth concerto grosso.

AAM, Handel Concerti Grossi:
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Op. 6
(selections, 2001)

available at Amazon
Op. 6
(complete, 1998)
The AAM sound is clean and unified, in keeping with its proud tradition. All musicians play on historical instruments, or excellent facsimiles thereof, with a rarefied five-section string ensemble of 12 players. Six wind players add color and impressively accurate technique on instruments that present numerous challenges. Egarr's direction adds to the limpidity of that sound, with a tendency toward dancelike lilt but never the agitated edge of some HIP conductors. It is good to hear the delicate theorbo and guitar added to the continuo, sometimes replacing the keyboard, as well as Egarr's own expert contribution at organ and harpsichord.

Tracks that have provided exquisite repeated listening include the opening movement of no. 2 (Vivace, B-flat major). Over a running waterfall of 16th notes, the other instruments delight in a sarabande-like, almost lopsided emphasis on the second beat. Actually, all of no. 2 would probably qualify as my favorite in the set (it opened the NGA concert), so effective on this recording because of the excellent sound of the oboes. The Largo movement starts out like an old hurdy-gurdy in the low instruments, with a plaintive oboe solo above it, and the remaining fast movements are effervescent. No. 3 in G major is also a short, sweet delight (just over 8 minutes), with its prominent part for flute. The AAM's Web site has a sound file of the opening of the first concerto's first movement:

Handel, Concerto Grosso, Op. 3, No. 1, 1st movement

As a lagniappe, the group offers the Sonata a 5 (HWV 288), composed during Handel's stay in Rome in 1707, essentially a concerto grosso featuring two soloists, lead violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk and Egarr at the harpsichord. Richard Egarr has plans to take the Academy of Ancient Music through a multidisc Handel recording project, of which this recording constitutes the first volume. Listeners who love Handel wait with open arms.

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907415

Also Recommended / Handel, Op. 3
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English Concert / Pinnock
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Concentus Musicus Wien / Harnoncourt
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Les Musiciens du Louvre / Minkowski
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La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy / Malgoire

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