Harpsichord Suites Nos 1-8; plus arrangements of Italian opera overtures and arias
Bridget Cunningham (harpsichord)
Signum Classics SIGCD 679 154:10 mins (2 discs)
The eight Suites contained here were printed in 1720. The release further includes the splendid Chaconne in G major, published in 1733, and a handful of harpsichord arrangements by the composer of music from four of his operas. Even though we have publication dates for the music, it is not possible to place with certainty their period of composition. Much of it may belong to Handel’s Hamburg years between 1704-05. What is certain is that these pieces are inventive and full of vitality. In short, they are unashamedly intended to please the senses and, in the hands of stylistically informed players they never fail to do so. Bridget Cunningham is just such a player.
Broadly speaking, the Suites follow the conventional French dance suite pattern, but with diverting irregularities such as Italianate allegros, two sets of variations, an ouverture and a passacaille. Seasoned Handelians will occasionally find pieces familiar to them in other contexts. Sometimes the preludes and allemandes bring François Couperin to mind, while the opening phrase of the Gigue of the E minor Suite bears affinity with the concluding movement of Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto.
Cunningham’s programme is crowned by the celebrated Air and Variations, The Harmonious Blacksmith – I cannot erase from my mind Wanda Landowska’s stentorian initial note in her historic recording – and the Chaconne in G major with its 21 variations, where I enjoyed her quietly spoken registration for the minor key variations. Her feeling for dance rhythms is infectious and her ability to entertain unassailable.