An intensely enjoyable listening experience.
Charlotte Gardner 2009-12-21
Händel’s Opus 7 organ concertos, published posthumously, stretch across the final two decades of his life. They represent a concentrated view of his style at the height of his compositional powers, writing for the instrument he played to a virtuosic level. Richard Egarr’s new two-CD recording does Handel proud, both in the thought applied to the actual notes on the page, and to how they would have been articulated in performance.
Egarr has mostly kept to the original editions published by Walsh in 1761. However, he has made some intriguing little scholastic touches, the most significant of which is to the sixth concerto. This started life as a sinfonia for organ and orchestra, followed by two further airs for organ. Walsh published it with the second air, for which he wrote a clumsy accompaniment. Egarr has paired the score down again to the bare minimum and recorded both airs. He believes that this is the first time the Air lentement has seen the light of day, either in recorded form or in a concert hall. Then, the organ improvisations are real-time, spontaneous creations, based on contemporary descriptions of improvised organ voluntaries that describe extraordinary sound sculptures of chords built up on top of each other. They’re both counter-intuitive and extremely affective.
Such a lot of scholarly thought can sometimes translate into a dully scholastic performance, but not here. The programme opens with punch, then zips along with fun-filled panache. Egarr on the organ delivers the light-fingered virtuosity the writing demands, whilst the orchestra fizzes and springs. There’s triumph, tension, sharply delineated dynamics, dancing humour, bright tone and clear textures. Every note and instrumental timbre shines out. There are added treats after the Op.7 concertos: a couple of Chaconnes, a Fugue and, most engagingly, the “Cuckoo and the Nightingale” concerto which is played with all the joys of spring and the cuckoo’s cheeky insouciance.
This is an intensely enjoyable listening experience, made all the better for the knowledge that it may be pretty close to what Handel intended. As much as one can ever know, anyway.