Handel’s op. 4 consists of six concertos for either organ or harpsichord accompanied by winds and strings. These works were used at performances of Handel’s oratorios at the King’s Theatre as entr’acte music, leaving a break for the singers and an opportunity for the audience to be mesmerized by Handel’s skills as both keyboardist and improviser.Read more Whereas one could hear the singer Farinelli at Porpora’s Opera of Nobility, Handel offered not only his own music at these performances but himself as the main attraction. As London bustled with activity, it was necessary to feature something unique for eager concertgoers: Handel’s gamble on himself paid off in spades.
But what of the piano? Handel may not have know the modern concert grand, yet so relaxed was he with reworkings of his own music—surely the op. 4 Concertos performed on an organ or a harpsichord offer two completely different experiences of the music—that the use of piano would have caused him little anguish. And as the keyboard parts are written for a single manual the transfer of the music to the piano changes little: a contrasting timbre, perhaps, but more sadly an added risk of ideological prejudice. And that is a shame, especially when one may miss out on great music-making such as this. Matthias Kirschnereit is well known to many through his stylish performances of everyone from Schubert and Mendelssohn to Shostakovich and Mozart (the complete piano concertos on Arte Nova). Here the pianist perfectly judges Handel’s music, using correct and fascinating ornamentation, scalar flourishes, and in general, a lighter tone. He takes full advantage of the piano’s capabilities in his use of alternating tone colors for varying sections of the concertos. This is particularly delightful in cases such as the opening movement to the first concerto: the brooding and harsh sounding full-bodied unison beginning paves the way for the more relaxed entry of the soloist, here heightened by the pianist’s gentle and expressive touch. In general, his faster movements are more sprightly and lighter in character, allowing the pianist to use a more articulate sound for the numerous running passages.
Recorded in spectacularly clear and vivid SACD sound, this release will play equally well on a standard system. One lovely aspect of the recorded sound is the balance achieved: most often the piano seems to come straight out of the orchestra rather than being thrown on top of it, making for a natural and convincing acoustic, the kind one might hear in a performance of the music in the concert hall. Excellently accompanied by the Deutsche Kammeracademie Neuss, under the direction of Lavard Skou Larsen, and with informative and interesting booklet notes by Ulf Brenken and personal notes by Kirschnereit, this is a production to relish. With playing of this stature, one can only hope that we will hear more of Handel played by Kirschnereit in the future: the Eight Great Suites, perhaps?
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
Handel composed his Op. 4 concertos as interludes to be performed between the acts of his oratorios. He played them on the organ–a very small organ with limited range and registers. He offered the harpsichord as a legitimate substitute, and wrote Op. 4 No. 6 for the harp. Like most composers of his day, he was happy to seize upon any instrumental innovation that he could (his enthusiasm for the keyboard glockenspiel, or carillon as he called it, is one example), and was keenly aware of the limitations of his available resources. So playing these works on a modern piano cannot be viewed as inauthentic in principle, whatever the actual sonority.
It is furthermore indisputable that the piano can do anything that a baroque keyboard instrument can do, only more. To prove this, one need only compare an “authentic” version to this new recording in a movement such as the finale of the G minor Concerto, Op. 4 No. 1, where the timbre of the organ, however charming in and of itself, fails to provide either the necessary contrast or continuity with that of the strings, at least as compared to that of the piano. The somewhat clunky responsiveness of the organ action also makes it sound marginally behind the beat and weighs on the music’s inherent liveliness.
Mind you, I am not saying that the music cannot be enjoyed in its original form. I love these pieces on whatever instrument they happen to be played, and some baroque organs sound delightful, but it’s impossible to deny the piano’s very real expressive advantages. Matthias Kirschnereit takes full advantage of them in terms of dynamics and variety of touch and articulation, while still offering readings that fall within an appropriate baroque style. He is accompanied enthusiastically and precisely by the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss under Levard Skou Larsen. The whole production sounds beautiful as captured in SACD sonics by the German Radio engineers. This is a real find.
TECHNICAL PROWESS DOESN'T TRUMP 18TH Cent.April 8, 2015By John P. (Middleton, NS)See All My Reviews"Technically very good but musically, why did the producers think the piano would be acceptable for these works. It dilutes the genius of Handel."Report Abuse