Notes and Editorial Reviews
For some incomprehensible reason, this set of Handel’s Op. 6 Concerti Grossi were omitted from Decca’s recent big box (“The Argo Years”) of Marriner recordings, notwithstanding the fact that (a) it remains one of Marriner’s signal musical achievements, and (b) that set contains things having nothing to do with “The Argo Years,” whereas these 1968 performances clearly belong to that period. Making matters ever sillier, the equally excellent Op. 3 concertos, included in this set, are also featured in the box, making the omission of Op. 6 even more inexplicable. Mysterious are the ways of the major labels.
So, what makes these recordings so special? Well, first of all, the string playing
is just plain stupendous, and in Op. 6 we have a sensitive and sparkling, but above all tasteful and discreet, realization of the continuo part by none other than period specialist Thurston Dart (Op. 3 features George Malcolm, also excellent). Neville Marriner himself plays the violin, along with his successor Iona Brown, and several other colleagues alternating in what can only be described as a joyful collaboration. Tempos are always sensibly chosen and invariably in keeping with the music’s expressive point. The slow movements really sing, while the allegros move in a way that pointedly clarifies the exchanges between the solos and the larger group, not to mention Handel’s vigorous bass lines.
Handel called these works “grand concertos”, and what these performances have in spades, and what is so often missing in period instrument recordings, is precisely that “grand” element. This doesn’t mean that the playing is too slow, or heavy, but it does have a rhetorical flourish and “bigness” that the music clearly demands. If, for example, we compare Marriner at the close of the First concerto’s second-movement allegro with, say, Harnoncourt (sound clips), you can hear instantly just how Marriner’s big ritard gives the music that sort of beefy pride that we often think of as quintessentially Handelian. Harnoncourt, by contrast, tip-toes coyly to the end. Charming, for sure, but is it Handel?
Granted, Handel did not write in that ritard, but neither did he designate Harnoncourt’s piano dynamics. At the end of the day neither is inherently right from an evidential point of view in terms of performance practice. Certainly Marriner’s marginally slower pace permits more of the music’s detail to register. His interpretations were viewed, in their day, as relatively un-romantic and crisply “classical”, while preserving a traditional view of the music that has as much claim to authenticity as anything that came afterward. This is why these beautifully recorded performances remain so vibrant and valid now, and still belong among the select reference versions of Op. 6.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Concerti grossi (6), Op. 3/HWV 312-317 by George Frideric Handel
Sir Neville Marriner
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Written: circa 1715-1717; London, England
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