Handel Concerti Grossi, Op. 6
Handel’s Op. 6 Concerti Grossi set was almost entirely newly-composed, unlike the ‘cut and paste’ of his Op. 3, and dashed off in a matter of weeks. Here was material that could leaven oratorio performances, but given the sheer variety, was Handel also trying to give another Op. 6 – Corelli’s influential Concerti Grossi collection – a run for its money? There are certainly echoes of Corelli, but Handel’s Op. 6 looks to the English Hornpipe, the French Ouverture and even the rustic Polonaise.
Compared with Il Giardino Armonico’s exuberant re-think, or Andrew Manze’s infectious high spirits, Kevin Mallon’s new recording with his Canadian period instrument ensemble offers honest, unfussy readings. There’s buoyancy in the opening of No. 1, but Handel’s harmonic twists at the end of the movement are short-changed, and while the Aradia Ensemble rarely wants for urbanity, warmth and clarity, a certain under-characterisation can merge one concerto into another. The opening Affetuoso of No. 4 could flutter its eyelashes a little more seductively, and the fugal Allegro that follows sounds a touch academically earnest. Yet if there’s a matter-of-factness about No. 7’s opening Largo, the Allegro goes off like a rocket, and the Allegro of No. 9 oozes vivacity. Mallon offers a safe pair of hands, and following Handel’s later practice, fleshes out the set with added woodwind.