Handel: Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2; Suite No. 3; Suite No. 4; Suite No. 5; Suite No. 6

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2; Suite No. 3; Suite No. 4; Suite No. 5; Suite No. 6
PERFORMER: Sophie Yates (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0644
Although Handel’s second book of suites was published in 1733, some thirteen years after his first set, many of the pieces date back to earlier than 1720. This second set, of which the first six of nine suites are recorded here, is something of a miscellany and lacks the poise of the first volume, but is still full of marvellous things, not least the ear-catching, improvisatory prelude to the first suite; so ear-catching, in fact, that Samuel Butler quoted its opening in his novel Erewhon. Exuberant variation movements abound; indeed the second suite, in G major, is comprised entirely of a set of twenty one variations.

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Sophie Yeats, playing a sweet-toned Ruckers copy, responds well to the music’s bravura demands. Her ornamentation and additional passage work in many of the variations where the score seems to offer an invitation to the performer to elaborate are well judged and at times, notably the end of the second suite, genuinely thrilling. I found her use of inégal in the Allemande of the third suite a little mechanical (contrast it with her playing in the Allmand of the fifth suite where it is both more subtle and natural). For the most part, however, she plays this music with insight and conviction: her right hand phrasing in the more melodically inclined movements is a delight. No complete recording of Handel’s second book of suites is available at the moment for direct comparison. Even if it were, these performances would certainly represent stiff competition. Jan Smaczny