Monday, May 3, 2010

Handel on eMusic: Orchestral


Orchestral concertos

Concerti grossi, op.3; Sonata HWV288. Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr [Harmonia Mundi] 26.

A Gramophone Editor's Choice: "These are for the most part lively performances full of fizzy finesse. There are several fine recordings that find a little more warmth, sentimentality and intimacy in the music... although the energetic brilliance so prominent in the AAM’s crisply athletic playing has its own rewards". Classics Today ("a riot of color and individualized character"), 9/10 from Classics Today France, and 4-4-4 from The album also won a Nereffid's Guide Award in 2007, as best-reviewed Baroque Instrumental album. American Record Guide called it "fine" although not the reviewer's first choice.

Concerti grossi, op.3. Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend [Challenge] 24.

This received top marks from Classics Today France, while American Record Guide praised it but said the contemporaneous AAM/Egarr one is better and in fact neither would be a first recommendation.

Concerti grossi, op.3. Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Iona Brown [Haenssler] 22.

Generally praised by MusicWeb: "There are plenty of opportunities for instrumental finesse and colour and the players take them happily; sometimes there are moments of distinct heaviness but the chamber intimacy of much of the music and its parallel impulse to the soloistic suit the Academy well".

Concerti grossi, op.3. Northern Sinfonia/Bradley Creswick [Naxos] 23.

Of this modern-instrument performance, MusicWeb says "Overall there are good illustrations here of why this repertoire has become so much the preserve of the period instrument groups". Fanfare's reviewer says "Creswick and his musicians perform with excellent ensemble and intonation. The release lacks, however, that indefinable something that made the Marriner and Brown recordings with the Academy [of St Martin; see above for Iona Brown's recording] so special. That aside, Naxos has no reason to cower in the face of competition, for it provides the listener with a heads-up and musically sound set of sessions that offer satisfaction in every measure". Gramophone is less impressed: "these performances project little spirit‚ let alone interpretative conviction or commitment to discovery – the desire to find interesting solutions beyond the merely pragmatic". Classics Today gives it 8/9, calling it "a good choice for a basic library", although "Northern Sinfonia proves fully engaged stylistically but not quite as full-bodied nor in possession of the keen articulation--especially the razor-edged ensemble bowing skills--of the best of today's Baroque orchestras". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "a most enjoyable modern-instrument version".

Concerti grossi, op.6. Academy of Ancient Music/Andrew Manze [Harmonia Mundi] 62.

Fanfare said "Manze and his charges are veterans to this repertoire and submit readings that are briskly paced yet never hurried. The grandeur associated with Handel comes through nicely as a result of Manze’s insight... if you demand Handel the way he may have heard it, this is your best bet".

Concerti grossi, op.6. Arte dei Suonatori/Martin Gester [BIS] 60.

International Record Review said the performances are "characterized by their shapeliness, by a pleasingly sweet string sound, and by a natural grace and elegance"; Gramophone found "playing of neatness, precision and clarity, but also of somewhat staid politeness"; and American Record Guide said "What impresses me above all is the group's capacity for utmost clarity and precision". BBC Music gave it 5-5 and named it that month's orchestral Choice: "earns an honourable place in any Handelian's collection". MusicWeb gave it a thumbs-up, saying "While I still quite like the Boston Baroque recording, this new one from Bis wins on every level". Klassik Heute gave it 8-9-8 (out of 10), while gave it 4-5-3 (out of 5). Fanfare called it "a top choice". Classics Today is the party-pooper, giving it 4/9: "These performances are very authentic, which essentially means misconceived from the start, and often downright unmusical... This is bad style, bad playing, and bad musicianship... the musical equivalent of a cloud of buzzing gnats".

Concerti grossi, op.6. I Musici de Montréal/Yuli Turovsky [Chandos] 62.

"This is spirited playing", according to Gramophone; "Readers who prefer modern instruments to period ones will find plenty to enjoy". Penguin Guide gave it *** plus a 'key' symbol: "This could now be first choice for this wonderful music".

Concerti grossi, op.6 - volume 1, nos.1-6. Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman [Telarc] 29.

Concerti grossi, op.6 - volume 2, nos.7-12. Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman [Telarc] 32.

Of volume 1, released in 1992, Gramophone said "My overall impression of the release is of thoughtful, detailed and affectionate performances of these immensely satisfying concertos. Everything seems to have been meticulously prepared and is then enlivened by spirited and warmly coloured playing". Volume 2 appeared 16 years later (!) and this time Gramophone said "Perhaps these interpretations lack a little of the exuberant sparkle in the benchmark version by Andrew Manze... there is something positive to be said for a slightly more measured and literal approach that certainly never lets Handel down". Fanfare's reviewer said of volume 2, "the difference between then and now with the release of Volume 2 is arresting. The ensemble has always played with great assurance and panache, but with this new release there comes an added fullness and weight to the corporate sound and a newfound richness to the string tone that brings the Boston Baroque perilously close to the opulence of a modern string orchestra. Being one who does not particularly appreciate the anorexic sound of some period-instruments ensembles, I offer this as a compliment, not a criticism... these are wonderful performances that I would put up against any comers, either on period instruments or modern". American Record Guide said in 2008, "we described Pearlman's first volume as resourceful, imaginatively shaped, and refreshing interpretations, lucidly recorded; the same applies to the second volume... certainly now a leading recommendation". MusicWeb gave volume 2 a thumbs-up: "These are spirited performances of the utmost clarity and refinement... All in all, this is a life-enhancing disc".

Concerti grossi, op.6 - volume 1, nos.1-5. Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage [Chandos] 24.

Concerti grossi, op.6 - volume 2, nos.6-9. Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage [Chandos] 22.

Concerti grossi, op.6 - volume 3, nos.10-12; Concerto grosso, 'Alexander's Feast'. Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage [Chandos] 20.

BBC Music gave 4-4 to both volume 1 and volume 3 (I didn't find a review of 2). The Fanfare review of volume 1 isn't online, but for volume 2 the reviewer said "In Fanfare 21:2 I waxed enthusiastic about the first volume in Chandos's traversal of Handel's great Opus 6. Volume 2 I find even more delightful", and for volume 3 he said "This is the version to have if you want period instruments" (this review was in 1999). Gramophone said of volume 1 "The performances are brimful of vitality...this is an immensely enjoyable disc", of volume 2 "vitality, clean-cut articulation, crisp rhythm and effective but natural-sounding tonal contrasts are in evidence...there is a general air of cheerfulness about the performances that is most engaging", and of volume 3 ""This last instalment ... is as pleasurable as its predecessors, with playing that is always on its toes". Penguin Guide gave the full set **(*) - "has been much admired for its combination of delicately crisp rhythmic vitality and airy grace. Yet anyone looking for weight of Handelian sonority in the ripieno will not find it here... Clearly, robustness is not part of Standage's conception: fresh, refined transparency is his hallmark".

Concerti grossi, op.6 - volume 1, nos.1-4. Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Iona Brown [Haenssler] 18.

Concerti grossi, op.6 - volume 2, nos.5-8. Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Iona Brown [Haenssler] 22.

Concerti grossi, op.6 - volume 3, nos.9-12. Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Iona Brown [Haenssler] 22.

Generally praised by MusicWeb: "t’s the third time that the Academy have recorded the Op. 6 set and they still have imaginative and enjoyable things to say even if they are no longer front runners in this repertoire (though amongst "traditional" performances they still hold an honoured place). There is considerable accomplishment in the readings, technical excellence, poise and a genuinely affecting simplicity". For some reason there's also a release of just nos.1,2,8,9,10 & 12, and this was praised by MusicWeb: "Brown directs performances full of sensitivity and insight".

Concerti grossi, op.3 no.3; op.6 nos.4-6. Capella Istropolitana/Jozef Kopelman [Naxos] 19.

Concerti grossi, op.6 nos.8, 10, 12; Concerto grosso, 'Alexander's Feast'. Capella Istropolitana/Jozef Kopelman [Naxos] 21.

No reviews found.

Oboe concertos, plus oboe concertos by Christoph Förster. Lajos Lencsés; La Follia/Christophe Poiget [Haenssler] 18.

Got 9-8-9 (out of 10 - artistic quality, sound quality, overall impression) from Klassik Heute, but only 2-2-4 (out of 5 - interpretation, sound, value to repertoire) from

Oboe concertos, overture to Otho, plus Air & Rondo and Suite in G minor (attrib. Handel), both edited by Camden. Anthony Camden; City of London Sinfonia/Nicholas Ward [Naxos] 26.

Gramophone said "Such highly embellished and individually shaped performances make a good case for these early Handel concertos... For those, however, looking for a rather more stylistically informed approach, the stiffness of the fast movements, such as in the finales of the B flat concertos, will ring warning bells". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "attractively reedy tone... sympathetic accompanists". Liner notes here.

Organ, harp and harpsichord concertos

Organ concertos, op.4. Matthew Halls; Sonnerie/Monica Huggett [Avie] 23.

"Inspiring interpretations that are a joy from beginning to end", according to Gramophone. For the Fanfare reviewer, "If one must have these concertos in period-instruments performances, this CD is highly recommended... If I have any complaint about Huggett and Sonnerie, it’s that they seem just a bit staid and proper". Classics Today France gave it 10/10, and MusicWeb called it "an enthralling and wholly convincing recording". It got *** and a key symbol from the Penguin Guide: "A clear first choice, unless you insist on a larger scale".

Organ concertos, op.4. Simon Lindley; Northern Sinfonia/Bradley Creswick [Naxos] 23.

BBC Music gave it 4-4, without saying much about the performance - in fact all it says really is "The organ is a softly spoken, clear-voiced instrument in Newcastle upon Tyne. It suits the music perfectly, and the sprightly playing of the Northern Sinfonia provides a sympathetic, well-balanced complement". In contrast, Fanfare thought the organ "a rather stuffy, hooty affair of the kind that used to make me think of these particular works as relatively minor Handel"; nevertheless the performances are "technically accomplished, stylistically sound (in the modern-instrument vein), and musical in a pleasantly relaxed and intelligent way". Gramophone praised it: "No period instruments, no gimmicks, but just well-chosen tempos, sturdy rhythms and clear and stylish articulation". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "most enjoyable... Not a first choice overall but an undoubted bargain".

Organ concertos, op.4. Léopold Hager; Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra [] 22.

Originally released on Forlane. No reviews found.

Organ concertos, volume 1 - op.4 nos.3 & 6; nos.13 & 14. Genevieve Soly; Ensemble Carl-Philipp/Jean-Francois Rivest [Analekta] 17.

Organ concertos, volume 2 - op.7 nos.2, 4 & 6; no.16. Denis Bédard; Ensemble Carl-Philipp/Jean-Francois Rivest [Analekta] 16.

Organ concertos, volume 4 - op.4 nos.2, 4 & 5; op.7 no.5. Robert Girard; Ensemble Carl-Philipp/Jean-Francois Rivest [Analekta] 16.

No reviews found.

Organ concertos, op.4 nos.1-4. Johannes-Ernst Kohler; Thuringisches Kammerorchester Weimar/Lothar Seyfarth [Berlin] 16.

Organ concertos, op.4 nos.5-6; no.13; no.16. Johannes-Ernst Kohler; Thuringisches Kammerorchester Weimar/Lothar Seyfarth [Berlin] 18.

Organ concertos, op.7 nos.2, 3, 5 & 6. Johannes-Ernst Kohler; Thuringisches Kammerorchester Weimar/Lothar Seyfarth [Berlin] 16.

No reviews found.

Organ concertos, op.4 nos.4 & 5; op.7 nos.1 & 4; no.13. Franz Haselbock; Capella Savaria/Pal Nemeth [Haenssler] 20.

No reviews found.

For solo versions of organ concertos, see Keyboard music below.

Concerti a due cori

Concerti a due cori; Music for the Royal Fireworks. English Chamber Orchestra/Charles Mackerras [Novalis] 25.

No reviews found.

Suites and overtures

Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks. Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall [Alia Vox] 30.

First issued on Auvidis Astree in 1994. At the time, Gramophone said "Of the period-instrument couplings of these two 'elemental' suites, this must be placed alongside that by the AAM under Hogwood at the top of the list". In a review of a different recording, MusicWeb said of Savall's one, "what it lacks in refinement – and one shouldn’t make too much of this – it more than makes up for in fire". The reissue got top marks from BBC Music and Classics Today, as well as 5-4-4 from Klassik Heute. Fanfare also praised the instrumentalists' "playing with abundant character" in the Water Music and described the Fireworks Music as "an exuberant performance truly worthy of a spectacle". American Record Guide "enjoyed it for its bracing independence. There are some really beautiful moments here and there".

Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks. Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner [Haenssler] 25.

In a brief review, MusicWeb says "Broadly traditional, the performances are strong but with forward moving tempi... [Marriner] still imparts distinction to much of the works though his earlier performances have maybe that extra degree of freshness that this present one occasionally lacks".

Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks. Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon [Naxos] 22.

Fanfare said "Despite excellent technical execution and a stylistically apt approach, these performances fall a bit flat", while BBC Music gave it 3-4: "the playing of the period-instrument orchestra is straightforwardly good... What is sometimes missing interpretatively is a sense of the music’s character". On the other hand, one MusicWeb reviewer named it a Bargain of the Month, saying "this is an excellent CD of thrilling music", while another said "These are attractive performances and if you are short of the works I have no qualms in recommending the recording at budget price. Some of the more expensive discs give slightly more sophisticated instrumental playing, but the Aradia Ensemble offer us infectious enthusiasm, youth and charm. What more could we ask for?" It was also an Editor's Choice for Gramophone, although the reviewer was not pleased with "a superfluous percussionist rattling away on a tambourine" in parts of the Water Music. It got 10/10 from Classics Today. Penguin Guide gave it **(*) - "the conductor's approach with its fast speeds in the overtures and dances may not be to all tastes".

Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks. Capella Istropolitana/Bohdan Warchal [Naxos] 26.

Penguin Guide gave it *** - "bright and lively performances".

Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks. Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Helmut Koch [Berlin] 22.

No reviews found.

Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks. Moscow Chamber Orchestra; USSR Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Fedoseyev [Rajon] 7.

No reviews found.

Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks. London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Bernard [Everest] 19.

No reviews found.

Water Music. Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 20.

This is "a very attractive account", according to Gramophone; "Perhaps what I enjoyed as much as anything in this performance was its lively sense of occasion".

Water Music. Orchestra of St Luke's/Charles Mackerras [Telarc] 25.

Not unfavourably viewed by Gramophone., while Fanfare placed it in its Hall of Fame: "offers polite nods to the now-accepted norms of Baroque performance practice, but he never becomes a slave to musicological rectitude. Mackerras is a musician first and foremost, and his is a wholly appealing and satisfying approach that never compromises musical common sense". But MusicWeb was less impressed: "sometimes it feels as it the orchestra is on auto-pilot, though admittedly a rather efficient one. What I missed was fantasy and vitality... the recording produces no new insights, but amongst the modern instrument performances of the 'Water Music' it makes a perfectly good showing". Penguin Guide gave it **(*) - "speeds consistently on the fast side and textures crisp and clean... However, with not coupling the disc offers short measure" (It's not clear - maybe that's what stopped it getting 3 stars).

Water Music. Boyd Neel Orchestra/Boyd Neel [Past Classics] 18.

Reviewed in 1955 by Gramophone, which reported the "stiff, insensitive conducting of Boyd Neel".

Water Music. Camerata Bern/Thomas Füri [Metro (Union Square)] 22.

No reviews found.

Water Music, plus a couple of extracts from Solomon. Les Violons du Roy/Bernard Labadie [Atma] 22.

10/10 from both Classics Today and Classics Today France. A thumbs-up from MusicWeb: "This is lively, spirited playing and Les Violons du Roy make the music fresh and alive, truly a new listening experience". gave it 4-5-4. American Record Guide said "there can never be a truly "best" choice but, allowing for the issue of accompanying material, I would say that Labadie's places up there in the front rank of the period-instrument category".

Water Music, plus music by JS Bach and Telemann. Deutsche Handel-Solisten/Arnold Östman [Bella Musica] 32.

This got just 4-6-4 from Klassik Heute.

Music for the Royal Fireworks; Concerti a due cori. English Chamber Orchestra/Charles Mackerras [Novalis] 25.

No reviews found.

Music for the Royal Fireworks; Organ concerto op.4 no.6; Concerto grosso, 'Alexander's Feast'; Largo from Serse; Arrival of Queen of Sheba. La Stravaganza Koln/Andrew Manze [Metro (Union Square)] 14.

No reviews found.

Other orchestral

"Handel and the Oratorio for Concerts". Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage [Chandos] 29.

This consists of instrumental music (including versions of arias) from Samson, Joseph and his Brethren, Semele, Jephtha, Susanna, Judas Maccabeus, and Solomon. BBC Music gave it full marks: "CM90 is on cracking form, instrumental soloists reflecting every nuance of the absent words – an unqualified delight". Fanfare said "This is certainly not a profound or revelatory release, but it is unquestionably an excellent and appealing one. I doubt that Handel ever heard it any better". gave it a 9: "solid musicianship reigns triumphant on a disc that is an absolute treasure. Very highly recommended".

"Handel at the opera" - instrumental music from Alcina, Arminio, Serse, Berenice, Rinaldo, Rodelinda, and Ariodante. Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage [Chandos] 26.

4-4 from BBC Music: "an engaging set, never short of charm or elegance... Collegium Musicum 90 are consistently stylish (if not always incisive)". 4 stars from MusicWeb (back when they did stars!): "Beguiling and pleasurable, most definitely yes, a treat to have in the collection when something a little different is in order, yet probably not an album to play all the way through and lend one's fullest attention. Nevertheless, a most warmly recommended release". The Gramophone reviewer said "I cannot remember when a recording of Handel's secular music gave me more pleasure". And a 9/9 from Classics Today: "sure to enlighten and entertain, whether you're a seasoned Handelian or a listener looking for an introduction to Handel's music". Classics Today gave it 8/9: "Despite my gripe about the preponderance of non-vocal music, this CD delights. A point or two has been taken from the rating because of Scholl's absence".

Orchestral music from various operas and oratorios; Concerto grosso op.3/1; "Fireworks concertos", HWV335a & b. English Chamber Orchestra/Charles Mackerras [Novalis] 32.

No reviews found.

Overtures - Jeptha, Lotario, Judas Maccabaeus, Alcina, Ottone, Athalia, and Il pastor fido. Orchestre Baroque de Montréal/Joel Thiffault [Atma] 18.

Classics Today gave it 7/7, complaining about "a supercharged, aggressive physical energy that dominates and ultimately consumes any hope for a refreshing breath of counterbalancing subtlety or lyricism". In contrast, Fanfare says "The sheer zest, color, rhythmic impetus, tonal drama, and expressive eagerness of the playing fairly take my breath away. Oh, yes, I could point to a rough edge here and there, but such minutiae are of no consequence beside the riveting quality of the playing. The strings are indeed abrasive at times, but in a dramatically appropriate way."

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