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Briefly Noted: Mr. Handel's Dinner

available at Amazon
Handel (et al.), Concertos, Sonatas, Chaconnes, M. Steger, La Cetra Barockorchester Basel

(released on May 17, 2019)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902607 | 76'31"
The last time recorder virtuoso Maurice Steger was in the area, he played with Les Violons du Roy in a blockbuster concert at Shriver Hall. The concept of his new album is to recreate the free-wheeling virtuosity of the pieces Handel led from the organ during his oratorios. The latter, rather than the often somber performances they receive these days, were usually given in a secular, even theatrical setting, with Handel dazzling the crowd at intermission with his own concertos or those of others adapted for his use.

Accordingly, many of these pieces are arranged and adapted by Steger as star vehicles for himself. The disc opens boldly with Handel's Concerto in F Major, which the composer adapted from his own recorder concerto for himself to play at the organ. Steger has mingled the two versions, often bringing out the recorder part from its embedded place in the organ version, even adding a striking improvisation in between movements, as Handel often did on these occasions. Steger entertains with dizzying finger precision and surprising embellishments, especially in Geminiani's Concerto Grosso in E Major, made after Corelli's Sonata, Op. 5, No. 11, and here arranged for alto recorder.

Steger plays on six different flutes, from a breathy tenor recorder in a Ground in D Minor by Gottfried Finger up to the fife-like "sixth flute," or high soprano recorder, in William Babell's Concerto for Sixth Flute and Four Violins. The "voice flute" has an especially pleasing turn in Handel's Trio Sonata in C Minor, especially in dialogue with the harp in the Andante movement. Other pieces feature the pleasing ensemble sound of La Cetra, the Baroque orchestra from Basel, particularly the suite of pieces from Handel's Almira, where the theorbo fills out the continuo part of the Sarabande movement with rich melodic fancy.

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