Handel: The Occasional Songs

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WORKS: The Occasional Songs
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Charles Daniels (baritone), David Miller (archlute, theorbo), Katherine Sharman (cello), Paul Nicholson (harpsichord)
If you ever wondered how people entertained themselves before radio, television, or the novel, try ‘crambo’, a songwriting game in which all possible rhymes for the subject’s name have to be included. ‘Molly Mog’ (rhymes with frog, dog, log, etc) is one of the more entertaining items on this selection of Handel ephemera – occasional songs that date from his early visit to Italy to his later years in London. Many come from the 1730 publication A Choice Collection of English Songs Set to Musick by Mr Handel. A few of the songs, such as the youthful ‘Airs français’ and ‘Four Songs in Different Languages’, move with a typical Handelian lilt, and several others possess a certain charm or droll humour. But all are slight and some are tedious, notably the strophic songs, like ‘An Answer to Collin’s Complaint’, which comprises innumerable verses all set to the same tune. Indeed, the music throughout is subservient to the lyrics, and reveals little of Handel’s melodic genius. Emma Kirkby and Charles Daniels provide sparkling performances, though I suspect that even the most ardent Handel aficionado will want to hear these songs only very occasionally. Graham Lock