LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Concerti grossi, Op. 6/1, 2, 6, 7 & 10
PERFORMER: Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901507 DDD
Corelli’s Op. 6 concertos had been ‘to the musicians like the bread of life’ for 25 years when Handel set out to match them with a comparable set. He finished the 12 concertos within five weeks, dating each one – most took a mere couple of days. Their level of invention and variety remains amazing, breaking the Corelli mould with a remarkably cosmopolitan mixture of styles: a French Ouverture, an English Hornpipe, Vivaldian solo movements and German counterpoint of the highest order.
Despite their French title, Christie’s players too are cosmopolitan, and they respond with profound understanding to Handel’s challenge in their five selected concertos. A high point is Handel’s own favourite movement, the haunting Musette of No. 6. They sparkle in the witty fugue of No. 7, its subject a single note repeated in ever shorter note values over three bars. Handel’s optional oboes lurk in the tutti textures, appearing once for an effective momentary solo. Continuo colours are varied, sometimes harpsichord, sometimes archlute filling in a cadential rest.
Alas! the recorded sound does not match the superb playing. A constant rumble is more than just a reassuring ‘presence’ between movements, intruding on the music itself during the quieter moments. George Pratt