Handel’s two sets of concerti grossi have been mainstays of the Baroque orchestral repertoire for many years and therefore have been embraced by ensembles around the world. They are among the few remaining examples of concertos composed early in his career. The dozen concertos of Handel’s op. 6 have eclipsed the half-dozen of op. 3 in popularity. The purpose of the set was twofold: to serve as interval music in his operas and oratorios, and—via their publication—to ensure dissemination to the various concerto societies and venues of London. Handel solicits comparison to the Corellian model by titling the set Twelve Grand Concertos and by making use of a concertino of two violins, cello, and continuo, a combination that was extremely popular at the time.
This 55-CD set chronicles the remarkable Archiv label, begun in 1947. Devoted mainly to early and Baroque music, the recordings presented here, in facsimiles of their original sleeves (a nice touch), cover the period from Gregorian chant to Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies, played on period instruments. There are stops in between for a great deal of Bach, music of the Gothic era, the French Baroque (Mouret, Delalande, Rameau, etc), Gibbons, Handel (Alcina, La Resurrezione, Messiah, Italian cantatas), Telemann, Zelenka, Gabrieli, Desprez, Haydn, LeJeune, and plenty of the usual, as well as unusual, suspects. There’s also a final CD with selections of new releases (more Handel, Cavalli, Gesualdo, Vivaldi).