This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
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.
Unlike Handel’s op. 3, the op. 6 set of concertos requires no wind instruments—there are no flute parts, and those for oboes and bassoons are ad libitum—and therefore lack the varied aural palate of their antecedents. However, Handel compensated for what some may view as an apparent shortcoming via their almost infinite variety of movements, some of which would be appropriate for the concerto da chiesa and others that would equally be at home in the concerto da camera. Handel juxtaposes the stylistic differences freely, adhering to but one tradition: that of opening each concerto with a slow movement. There are also a number of “borrowings” from not only his compositions but also those of other composers, e.g., the Fifth Concerto, which draws upon Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day and the Componimenti musicali of Gottlieb Muffat. But there is also striking originality, especially in the odd fugal subject that follows the opening movement of the Third Concerto or the unusual and bold harmonic surprises found in the Allemande of the salutatory movement of the Eighth Concerto. This musical goulash of sorts—recycled, pinched, and new material, as well as the seemingly diverse styles of da chiesa and da camera—might not have worked for another less-gifted composer, but Handel succeeds brilliantly in knitting all of the elements together, and never drops a stitch.
Founded in 1972 by cellist Julian Fifer, and now with more than 48 recordings under its belt, Orpheus is one of the finest chamber orchestras in the world. When its recordings first appeared on Deutsche Grammophon, critical acclaim was immediate and unanimous, with one writer noting, “America finally has its own Academy of St. Martin in the Fields!” Originally issued in 1996, Orpheus’s recordings of these concertos were unanimously praised and still remain leading contenders today. The readings are never less than first-class via thoughtful pacing, immaculate ensemble, rhythmic vitality, and razor-sharp intonation. There is never any attempt at creating an imitation of what Handel may have heard. Instead, the focus is upon a thoughtful and musically satisfying presentation with a polite nod in the direction of the norms of the Baroque.
This exceptional set of Handel’s op. 6 concertos was long overdue for induction into the Fanfare Classical Hall of Fame.
-- Michael Carter, FANFARE [9/2004] Read less
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