Brilliant Classics continues its famous Composer Edition series with one of the giants of the Baroque, George Frideric Handel, the celebrated German who settled in London. Having absorbed the German and Italian styles of his time he formed his own distinctive musical language, which, while following the current fashions and audience preferences, retained his own deep humanity and inner power.
McGegan's recording is of considerable documentary interest in that a separate section at the conclusion of each of the three parts of Messiah - there are three discs accordingly - is reserved for the many alternative versions of arias, accompanied recitatives and choruses which Handel himself used or at least approved in performances during the 1740s and 1750s. In this way, the booklet explains, the listener can select which version of the work he/she wants to listen to at any given time. About six versions are possible from the 18 alternative tracks provided on the three CDs. By following a table printed in the back of the booklet (a few minutes' mental gymnastics are initially required) you can programme your CD player to replace particular arias with others.
…From this background material Handel made something completely new, with rich, unusual sound effects in the strings. Banzo's group Al Ayre Español, which does not at all restrict itself to Spanish music, catches this kind of unusual moment quite vividly. It's a specialist group of the best kind, the kind that aims at general audiences and puts across fairly arcane material by dint of sheer musicality. An ideal choice for those who want to get deeper into how Handel's London audiences heard his music.
Handel's Concerti Grossi opus 6 must surely be ranked as some of the greatest orchestral music ever composed. Probably penned in or around 1739, the pieces were developed to serve as orchestral "interludes" for other operatic or oratorio performances. To listen to them, however, is to tempt us not believe that this could possibly be the case: the Concerti Grossi opus 6 works are without doubt among the pinnacle of Baroque composition. After listening to these, we are left with a distinct sadness that Handel did not turn his attention more to this genre, as his masterful treatment in the opus 6 shows us his true genius.
Jordi Savall's exemplary performance of Handel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks is among the finest available on disc: refined and precise, but very big, with blood-stirring grandeur. This is just the kind of extroverted, rousing presentation that best highlights the music's open-air ceremonial function. Savall's Le Concert des Nations is essentially a chamber orchestra with double or triple winds, but the sound he elicits from the group is majestic and surprisingly powerful. The playing is crisp and the rhythmic articulation bracing, but the sound is never brash. In fact, more often than not it is seductively sensual, a heady integration of precision and supple, shapely phrasing. Handel left no authoritative edition of the score of Water Music and it has traditionally been divided into three suites, but Savall reorders the material into two suites, a decision that makes more sense in terms of key relationships and that sounds entirely satisfying.
With The All-Baroque Box we realize one of our fondest dreams: harnessing the deep catalogue of Archiv Produktion (supplemented on occasion by Decca L oiseau lyre recordings) to create a comprehensive collection of great music from Monteverdi to Bach. The music ranges from huge Baroque (Missa Salisburgensis, Venetian polychoral, Charpentier Te Deum) to intimate Baroque (the Goldberg Variations, Bach cello suites, solo cantatas) overwhelming in its impact and emotional content.
Saul is one of Handel's largest oratorios; its rich orchestration includes trumpets, trombones, timpani, harp, and carillon. René Jacobs certainly wrests every drop of color from this luxurious array of instruments, particularly in the choruses, which are gloriously grand but also extremely exciting. In Nos. 20-24, where the populace (with maddening relentlessness) praises David above Saul to the incessant jangling of the carillon, it's easy to understand why the king objects to the unseemly revelry. Handel's music wonderfully suggests both the joyous celebration and seeds of jealousy being planted in Saul's mind. Similarly, Jacobs' careful choice of colors for the continuo part makes the famous "Dead March" far more solemn than it often sounds, an appropriate introduction to Handel's "Elegy on the death of Saul and Jonathan".
If only for his melodic genius, Handel would have been forever acknowledged as one of history's greatest composers. These delightful sonatas for recorder provide abundant evidence to support that claim, and Marion Verbruggen's warm, resonant recorder and brilliant flute prove the perfect partners for bringing these rarely heard pieces to life.