Handel: Harpsichord Suites

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Harpsichord Suites
PERFORMER: Olivier Baumont (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-14886-2
Handel’s early fame was as a keyboard virtuoso and improviser, and much of his harpsichord music has the nature of written out extemporisations. In his day, he was said to play with ‘fulness, force and energy’, and that description fits Olivier Baumont’s interpretations. Occasionally, indeed, he is almost too forceful; and the G major Chaconne (one of Handel’s favourite keyboard works), and the Pasacaille from the G minor Suite of 1720 are marred by some rather heavy-handed playing. A pity, because elsewhere, Baumont plays with great delicacy and finesse, and his ornamentation is meticulous – particularly the fiendishly tricky mordents of the A major Gigue, also from the 1720 publication. What makes these performances outstanding is Baumont’s debonair panache, giving the music a virtuosic freedom which Handel surely intended.

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To reflect Handel’s cosmopolitan influences and his own interest in keyboards and keyboard making, Baumont has chosen three quite different harpsichords: a Flemish instrument by Couchet of 1652, a French harpsichord of 1707, and a delightfully delicate Italian instrument dated 1677. Kate Bolton