LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Concerti grossi, Op. 6/1, 2, 3, 4; Concerto grosso in C (Alexander’s Feast)
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Nicholas McGegan
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45348 2
Handel’s Op. 6 set of 12 concerti grossi, written over a period of four weeks late in 1739 at the behest of his publisher Walsh, remains a joy to ear and soul. It contains music that radiates the same vital, airy freshness, colour and refinement which so endeared the composer to London’s audiences when he first arrived in Britain nearly three decades before.
Though based firmly upon the well-established ‘church sonata’ convention – four movements, slow-fast-slow- fast – and lacking Bach’s adventurous spirit in terms of instrumentation there is nothing tired or formulaic about these works. Indeed Handel eagerly embraces additions to the outline plan, adding a quite lovely Polonaise to the Third Concerto and an extra Allegro in jaunty triple time to the First, for instance.
There is plenty of formal and textural variety. This disc includes the first four concertos of the set and the concerto grosso written in 1736 for performance during the ode ‘Alexander’s Feast’. The playing of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is as stylish and poised as one might expect, crisply articulated and, where necessary (and nowhere is it more necessary than in the lovely Largo e piano of the Fourth Concerto), elegantly expressive, with excellent soloists in Elizabeth Wallfisch and Catherine Macintosh (violins) and Susan Sheppard (cello). Nicholas McGegan directs unfussily from podium rather than keyboard – I am no dogmatist in these matters – and if the results he gets fall slightly short of the sparkling immediacy achieved by my benchmark recording, that by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, they are still extremely pleasing. Stephen Pettitt