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Freiburg Baroque Orchestra perform Handel’s three ‘concertos for two wind choirs’

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Concerti a due cori, HWV 332-4
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Gottfried von der Goltz & Petra Müllejans
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905272

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Handel’s three ‘concertos for two wind choirs’ were composed to provide an additional draw as well as to offer variety during his oratorio seasons in 1747-48. Despite their title, strings are used as well as wind, making these unusual pieces written for two large-scale ensembles capable of exciting antiphonal effects.

Each of them made its debut in a particular oratorio performance – HWV 332 probably in the premiere of Joshuain 1748, HWV 333 in that of Alexander Balus that same year and HWV 334 during Judas Maccabaeus in 1747. Containing six or seven pieces, these suite-like compilations offer an overture plus several follow-up movements, though surprisingly few dance forms: HWV 332 ends with a Minuet, but that’s all. Instead Handel – the great recycler – either recalls music from previous compositions (MessiahBelshazzar and the operas Lotario andOttone in HWV 332), or else gives his audience a foretaste of a work not yet performed – the oratorio Alexander Balus, again in 332. Despite this widespread re-use of material, Handel’s treatment of his themes is often at its most inventive, notably in the largest movement here, the rollicking Allegrothat ends 334 in thrilling fashion.

Divided into two large groups, the Freiburg period players relish the distinctive sounds of their instruments, with particularly strongly flavoured oboes and proud horns. The vital overall sound and use of sonic perspective are undeniably stirring, though at less than 49 minutes the disc might well be thought short measure.

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George Hall