Handel: Keyboard Suites

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Air Note
WORKS: Keyboard Suite No. 2 in F, HWV 427; No. 4 in E minor, HWV 429; No. 5 in E, HWV 430; No. 8 in F minor, HWV 433; No. 5 in E minor, HWV 438 & No. 6 in G minor, HWV 439; Menuet in G minor, from Suite No. 1, HWV 434; Allemande in D minor, from Suite No. 3, HWV 428; Air in D minor, from Suite No. 3, HWV 428
PERFORMER: Racha Arodaky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: AIR 001-2009

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 Handel’s keyboard Suites are almost all early pieces, 11 of them composed before his visit to Italy, the rest in London before opera and then oratorio became his over-riding preoccupation.

They reflect the inventiveness and imagination of his early years – the F minor fugue accelerating from minims through crotchets to quavers and the extraordinarily angular gigue which ends this suite; HWV427 suggesting a church sonata without dance movements, and a fugue to end; a delight in variations, including the so-called ‘Harmonious Blacksmith’ concluding HWV430. 

The Suites have rarely been recorded complete, and this disc too cherry-picks five of them, with three more isolated movements serving inexplicably as ‘Introduction’ and ‘Intermèdes’. Racha Arodaky, of Syrian origin but now firmly ranked among French pianists, plays them with flair and style. She’s a fine technician, as she demonstrates in the huge Gigue of HWV439, nearly 150 bars of high-stepping triplets at a cracking pace.

At the other extreme is the dark Prelude of HWV433, opening quietly and reflectively, then growing inexorably towards a mighty fugue, unusually pianistic in its octave-reinforced bass.

Arodaky is admirably sympathetic to the suites’ harpsichord origins, with transparent part-playing and minimal recourse to the sustaining pedal. She capitalises on the piano’s ability to pick out inner details and, although the venue is a church, the recording positioning creates a warm sense of intimacy. Her touch in quiet movements is beautifully controlled until ornaments attract accents in the Adagio opening HWV427.

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A warmly commended collection of the best of Handel’s keyboard Suites. George Pratt