Handel: Concerti grossi, Op. 3; Sonata a 5

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Concerti grossi, Op. 3; Sonata a 5
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 807415 (hybrid CD/SACD); HMU 907415 (ordinary CD)
Handel’s six concertos Op. 3 have a tarnished reputation. They were published by Walsh in 1734, cobbled together from various earlier sources – Chandos Anthems, keyboard pieces left-overs from youthful concertos. No. 4 was replaced in a second edition, and No. 6 has only two unrelated movements. Scholars have questioned whether Handel knew, let alone approved, of Walsh’s venture. Richard Egarr is more trusting, as his liner note explains. His faith in the music is reflected in a performance which is bold, confident, and revelling in the colours of the added wind – oboes, recorders, flute and a buzz of Baroque bassoons. His preparation is clearly meticulous: purposefully worked-out articulations in the third movement of No. 1; perfect balance between the rippling barcarolle of two cellos and intensely expressive oboe in the second movement of No. 2; Handel’s extended fugues worked out cohesively, as in the opening movement of No. 4. In No. 6, Egarr provides a beautifully fluent organ ‘improvisation’. Tempos are lively, some surprisingly so: the Minuet of No. 2 only retains its dancing character by compressing triple time into ‘one-in-a-bar’.

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Playing throughout is technically superb. The solo oboe and violin duet together in garlands of ornamentation with nonchalant, unstudied ease. Intonation, even when wind are in testing unison with strings, is virtually impeccable. But what really sets it apart from some attractive competition – The Brandenburg Consort/Goodman (Hyperion), Handel and Haydn Society/Hogwood (Avie) – is the recorded sound. Multi-channel reproduction bathes it in ambient resonance while retaining clarity across the three-dimensional aural stage. Not to be missed. George Pratt