Handel: Concerti Grossi, Op. 6

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Linn
WORKS: Concerti Grossi, Op. 6
PERFORMER: Avison Ensemble/Pavlo Beznosiuk
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 362

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Handel wrote these 12 concertos in a single month in the autumn of 1739. While he pays homage to others – Domenico Scarlatti, Georg Muffat – in borrowings, and re-cycles some of his own music, these 62 movements represent an astonishing burst of compositional creativity.

They’re exceptionally varied: from four to six movements, including French overtures, Italian ritornellos, dances, fugues, variations. Textures range from strings without soloists to an independent trio in dialogue with the orchestra.

Yet they’re unified by their outstanding quality; there’s not a duff movement in the whole set and some – the haunting Musette of No. 6, the monotone accelerating fugue-subject of No. 8, the teasing iambic rhythms of No. 9’s larghetto – are unforgettable. 

This fine ensemble, founded to investigate the previously unknown music of the Newcastle composer Charles Avison, takes on his London contemporary with tremendous panache. The three soloists are first-rate.

In the later works, notably No. 11, Handel included movements which are virtually solo concertos; Pavlo Beznosiuk’s virtuosity had me on the edge of my seat in the andante variations and the final allegro. But the Ensemble plays, too, with great tenderness, for instance No. 8’s brief but lovely quote from the aria ‘Piangero’ in Giulio Cesare.

Although Handel’s optional oboes for four concertos are omitted (Collegium Musicum 90 on Chandos includes them), alternating harpsichord and organ continuo lends tonal variety.

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The price paid for great energy and close-recorded ‘presence’ is some hardness in the sound (noticeably tempered in SACD) but, with tone-control tweaked, I shall certainly return frequently to this splendid set. George Pratt