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Handel: Five Great Suites for Harpsichord

Ton Koopman (harpsichord) (Challenge Classics)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Five Great Suites for Harpsichord, HWV 427-8, 430, 432-3
Ton Koopman (harpsichord)
Challenge Classics CC 72923    67:26 mins


Handel’s Eight Suites de Pièces pour le Clavecin were printed in 1720, though some of the music, at least, was written at an earlier period and, more particularly perhaps, during the composer’s Hamburg years between 1704 and 1705. Ton Koopman has chosen five of the suites, which he plays on his own harpsichord by Willem Kroesbergen, after Ruckers.

The suites follow the conventional French dance suite pattern, by-and-large, though the familiar sequence of prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue is frequently interrupted by pleasing irregularities, among which are busy Italianate allegros, an ouverture in the French manner, a passacaille and two effervescent sets of variations. These last-mentioned, in particular, afford Koopman opportunities for his characteristic flamboyance, though in general his playing is less inclined towards those unmistakeable flights of ornamental fancy that we have come to recognise over the past half century or so.

Koopman has made a judicious choice from among the eight suites and has included the G minor Suite with its splendid Passacaille and the D minor and E major Suites with their dazzling variation sets. One of them is the celebrated and much-loved ‘Harmonious Blacksmith’ – the title was not Handel’s but a much later appendage – which gives Koopman scope to demonstrate his virtuosity and his innate exuberance. For the most part, though, his playing seems to have acquired a degree of restraint which, in many movements, especially preludes and those in which slower tempos are required, is beneficial. Readers will find much to enjoy here, though I would urge them to explore elsewhere the three suites, sadly omitted.


Nicholas Anderson