Handel: Eight ‘Great’ Suites

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Handel: Eight ‘Great’ Suites
WORKS: Eight ‘Great’ Suites, HWV 426-433
PERFORMER: Richard Egarr (harpsichord)


The piano has had Handel’s Eight ‘Great’ Suites pretty much to itself on disc of late, with Lisa Smirnova’s scintillating ECM set the most recommendable (reviewed January 2012). So it’s good to find them reclaimed for their original instrument, and by a harpsichordist whose Handelian keyboard credentials have already been road-tested in dazzlingly devil-may-care accounts of the Organ Concertos.

Richard Egarr’s approach is not for the faint-hearted though. When he admits in his liner note to cultivating his ‘inner Handel-monster’ it’s no mere hyperbole. Out to cut a virtuosic dash with his first keyboard collection for London, Handel didn’t always trouble himself with the niceties of producing something easily playable, and the F minor Suite’s disquieting Prelude is capped by a fugue whose left-hand chords strive after an orchestral effect that seems to tear up the rules of idiomatic harpsichord writing. Where Handel boldly leads, Egarr heroically follows. But he never nurtures virtuosity for its own sake. Indeed many of his tempos sound initially almost cautious, but that’s to facilitate Egarr’s ace: his ability to embellish with unstoppable panache.

Some may find the end of the G minor ‘Passacaille’ a touch off the wall, but it’s an understandable response to the surging forward momentum (and even hint of boogie-woogie) that has preceded it. Whether in the whirlwind ‘Phantasticus’ elaborations of the D minor Prelude, or the tender butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-its-mouth A major ‘Allemande’, Egarr is the versatile man for all Handelian moods. Daring and full of insight, this invigorating release goes straight to the top of the class.


Paul Riley