Handel: Organ Concertos, Op. 4

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Organ Concertos, Op. 4
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMU 807446 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Simon Preston’s groundbreaking 1960s recording of the Concertos with Menuhin, for all its gusto, had a certain stateliness: Handel carved in marble. Nowadays it’s a more human composer who speaks through smaller forces and quite often a chamber organ with a handful of stops (Matthew Halls and Sonnerie offering a particularly intimate take). Richard Egarr manages to have his cake and eat it; for while there’s a confiding companionship in much of his interaction with the crack forces of the AAM, there are movements whose grandeur almost recalls times past. Not that Egarr hasn’t rethought every note. Some will find his playing mannered, yet there’s a freshness and sense to what he does which becomes more apparent with every hearing. The often surprisingly measured tempos intensify the dialogue while allowing room for some prodigious embellishment: Egarr introduces himself as soloist with a come-hither trill. On the other hand many will gasp as he rips through the gigue finale of No. 5, sealing the first movement’s irrepressible jauntiness with a thrumming guitar continuo. An 18th-century ‘recording’ – albeit a barrel-organ – gives Egarr the green light to pursue the ‘uncommon brilliancy’ Mainwaring detected in the executant Handel. Matthew Halls might be a safer bet, but Egarr is worth hearing: his charisma is infectious and the recorded sound sensational.