Handel: Organ Concertos Opp. 4&7; Harp Concerto, Op. 4/6

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Organ Concertos Opp. 4&7; Harp Concerto, Op. 4/6
PERFORMER: Paul Nicholson (organ), Frances Kelly (harp); Brandenburg Consort/Roy Goodman
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67291/2
Learned, lucid and illustrated booklet notes highlight Hyperion’s coup in using Handel’s own instrument for its enjoyable set of the Opp. 4 and 7 concertos. The recording made in a church acoustic with evidence of the occasional wheeze (and clatter of keyboard action) reminds us, as good music teachers always should, that the organ is a wind instrument. Bob van Asperen uses a modern copy of a continuo instrument in a studio environment and has a greater sense of security, but there is a loss of adventure and, more significantly, instrumental colour.

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Musically, the choice between these issues is far from clear. Handel left a number of sections marked ad libitum for his own improvisation. On comparative occasions, I find van Asperen’s choice of ‘loan works’ more satisfying. He tends, also, to be rather more sprightly in the faster movements, though Nicholson benefits, throughout, from adopting a larger palette and Roy Goodman’s unfailingly imaginative accompaniment.

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Since the repertoire isn’t identical, I would say that those who already have van Asperen’s Op. 4 set will want his new issue. For an overview, the Hyperion is highly recommended – not least for a glorious rendition of the Harp Concerto and the novelty of the briefest contribution of Clare College Choir in an Alleluia finale. David Wilkins