Handel: Organ Concertos, Op. 4

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: Organ Concertos, Op. 4
PERFORMER: Erzsébet Achim (organ)Budapest Strings/Károly Botvay
CATALOGUE NO: 10 533 DDD
Erzsébet Achim and the Budapest Strings steer a safe, traditional course through Handel’s six Op. 4 concertos, and yet there is much in their performances to commend. The strings, if occasionally sounding a little over-ripe, are consistently warm and well-focused, and there are many moments of the utmost sensitivity. Listen to the trio sonata texture of the first movement of No. 3 where a solo violin and cello phrase the music with such natural grace. The outer Allegro movements avoid any helter-skelter speeds, giving way to a certain robustness of style, the bass line sharpened by some fine bassoon playing.

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It is, of course, in the solo part that the heart of these concertos is found. In his Erato recording with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Ton Koopman brings the improvisatory element to the fore. Some may find his relentless ornamentation of the melodic line distracting, and if so, this straightforward approach should find favour. For my taste, Achim underplays the solo line too often, leaving repeated material unaltered; some judicious colouring would have lifted the music in these passages.

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Generally, the recording has the organ placed at rather a distanced perspective and, at the opening of No. 4, for example, clear articulation suffers. For an outright recommendation of this set, try Simon Preston and the English Concert under Trevor Pinnock, where refined playing and an unrivalled sense of style winningly combine. Stephen Haylett