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Handel: Complete Piano Concertos

Matthias Kirschnereit (piano), Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss/Lavard Skou Larsen (CPO)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Organ Concertos (arr. for piano and orchestra)
Matthias Kirschnereit (piano), Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss/Lavard Skou Larsen
CPO 555 413-2 (CD/SACD)   198:06 mins (3 discs)


Pianists – Sviatoslav Richter, Murray Perahia and Keith Jarrett among them – have long observed open season on Handel’s harpsichord suites. Few, however, have thought of appropriating the organ concertos – although Ragna Schirmer ventured a set on Berlin Classics, divvying them up between fortepiano, pianoforte and, throwing caution to the wind, Hammond organ buttressed by a jazz combo. Matthias Kirschnereit restricts himself to a Steinway grand, but there’s nothing ‘restricted’ about his free-spirited approach. In the liner notes he argues that the modern piano offers the chance ‘to display in a different light a number of artistic ideas slumbering in these scores.’ There’s certainly little room for slumber given Kirschnereit’s interventions, which can prove distinctly hit-and-miss.

Handel’s keyboard playing was commended by a contemporary for his ‘uncommon brilliance and command of fingers,’ two qualities Kirschnereit possesses in spades; but stylish exuberance co-exists with a welter of stylistic anachronisms that can passingly push the music closer to CPE Bach, Mozart and even, at times, Beethoven. His embellishments often strive too hard; introspection can turn self-regarding. One moment his invention delights, the next it interposes itself between listener and music. A similar stylistic inconsistency afflicts the undeniably tight-knit Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss.

Previously released as three separate discs and now boxed together for the first time, Kirschnereit’s is ‘Handel with care’; but the equally playful insights and greater linguistic coherence of organist Richard Egarr on Harmonia Mundi offers a more persuasive vision.


Paul Riley