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George Frideric Handel – Concerti grossi op. 6 HWV 319-330 – Combattimento Consort Amsterdam, Jan Willem de Vriend (2012) [Official Digital Download 24bit/352,8kHz + 24bit/176,4kHz]

George Frideric Handel – Concerti grossi op. 6 HWV 319-330 – Combattimento Consort Amsterdam, Jan Willem de Vriend (2012)
Digital eXtreme Definition FLAC Stereo (tracks) 24-bit/352,8 kHz | Time – 02:34:22 minutes | 10,86 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Master, Official Digital Download – Source: | Digital Booklet | © Challenge Records
Recorded: Muziekcentrum Enschede, NL, 29 November – 1 December 2010 & 4-8 July 2011

The creative riches of structure and the broad diversity of styles that Handel exhibits in the 61 (!) movements of his 12 Grand Concertos, time and again coloured by a surprising palette of musical expression, is unique, and has led to his opus VI being generally considered alongside Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos as one of the great monuments of Baroque instrumental music.

Because George Frideric Handel meticulously dated the manuscripts of his concertos, we know that they were completed in September and October of 1739, as shown in the list below. HWV refers to the thematicsystematic catalogue of Handel’s work, the Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis, and Walsh to the first edition, of 1740. The often very close dates of completion give rise to astonishment at how quickly Handel composed the respective concertos. In some cases, however, the proximity of the dates is misleading because Handel borrowed from his own (and others’) work. In today’s terminology, we might speak of “recycling” – a practice Johann Sebastian Bach also employed throughout his life.

This borrowing was applied with varying degrees of exactitude. In some cases, the music is identical: the first movement (a tempo giusto) of Concerto No. 1 to the third movement of the Sinfonia from the Occasional Oratorio, HWV 62; the fourth (Allegro) and fifth (Menuet) movements of Concerto No. 9 to the second and third parts of the Overture for the opera Imeneo, HWV 41, composed a year earlier. Elsewhere, it varies from showing only slight changes (such as the second movement of Concerto No. 5 and the second part of the overture of the Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, HWV 76) to being radically altered, such as the sixth movement (Menuet) of Concerto No. 5 and the third part of the previously named overture. Other times there is not much similarity except for the beginning of a given theme, after which the pieces simply go their own way: the second movement (a tempo giusto) of Concerto No. 6 equals the chorus “They Are Brought Down” from the Chandos Anthem, no. 10, HWV 255. But the typical, chromatically descending beginning (incidentally, marvellously suited for fugal treatment), remaining with this thematic material, could already be heard in the much earlier arioso “Alla Salma in fedel” from the solo cantata La Lucrezia: Oh Numi eterni, HWV 145.

The swiftness with which Handel turned out his op. 6 collection of 12 concerti grossi—roughly the month of October 1739—is sometimes considered with an emotion bordering on awe. It was a fine example of concentrated effort, but by no means unique in the composer’s experience, and certainly not limited to him alone. Telemann, Bach, and Vivaldi all composed as  rapidly, as did many of their less-celebrated contemporaries. It was in part a matter of expediency. You needed to produce works regularly for the church where you were cantor; or for instruction in an orphanage that housed many illegitimate girls of noble or wealthy middle class families; or for the opera houses you were under contract to; or for a ruler who expected new works on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. In a period that prized new entertainment, the nobles, guilds, and churchmen sometimes appear to have valued music as though it were so many yards of cloth, but as in these concerti grossi, we are fortunate that from time to time it was spun out of gold.

The scoring is emblematic of baroque practicality. Handel’s original version, as published, calls for “four Violins, a Tenor, a Violincello, with a Thorough-Bass for the Harpsichord.” However, the composer decided to include these concerti grossi as intermezzos during a series of 1739/1740 concerts featuring several of his odes and oratorios. He took advantage of the larger orchestra available at that time, and added parts for oboes and bassoons to the first, second, fifth, and sixth concertos. Given the popularity of the pieces, it’s hardly surprising recordings of both versions are common.

Jan Willem de Vriend and Combattimento Consort Amsterdam perform the strings-and-winds orchestration here. Theirs is also one of the larger ensembles to record this music recently. Leaving winds to one side, they feature nine to 10 violinists (depending on the work), three violists, two cellists, a double bassist, and a selection of continuo that includes organ, two harpsichords, and chittarone. They don’t use period instruments, and their performances are stylish, technically astute, and dynamically varied, with light ornamentation in the continuo. They are lively as well, while giving slow movements and Italianate legato their due. Vibrato is minimal, but the performers demonstrate that this is no impediment to producing attractive tone. Rhythms are tight, and strongly defined.

The competition is sizable, and as you might expect, hardly negligible. Among those that are similar in approach if not orchestration, Manze/Academy of Music (Harmonia Mundi 907228) has a thinner sound that makes much of the more contrapuntal movements. Benznosiuk/Avison Ensemble (Linn 362) performs along identical lines, but with a silky smooth instrumental sound that reminds me of 1950s British string orchestras. Compared to these, de Vriend/Combattimento Consort Amsterdam is sometimes spikier in its accenting, and occasionally faster, as in the final pair of movements to the Ninth Concerto Grosso. All three are excellent; and while other versions are equally worth considering, if you want plenty of energy and character in this extroverted music, these are the ones I’d single out as the most satisfactory.

If forced to choose, I’d opt for Benznosiuk should you be looking for strings only, and de Vriend if you want strings-and-winds. Both supply excitement, charm, and solid musicality, in heaping portions that might have even pleased that gourmand Handel himself. –Barry Brenesal, FANFARE

Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759)
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 1 in G major HWV 319
[1] I. A tempo giusto 1:47
[2] II. Allegro 1:49
[3] III. Adagio 2:23
[4] IV. Allegro 2:23
[5] V. Allegro 3:00
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 2 in F major HWV 320
[6] I. Andante larghetto 3:24
[7] II. Allegro 2:25
[8] III. Largo 2:12
[9] IV. Allegro, ma non troppo 2:15
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 3 in e minor HWV 321
[10] I. Larghetto 1:17
[11] II. Andante 1:37
[12] III. Allegro 2:29
[13] IV. Polonaise: Andante 4:13
[14] V. Allegro, ma non troppo 1:22
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 4 in a minor HWV 322
[15] I. Largo affettuoso 2:28
[16] II. Allegro 2:53
[17] III. Largo e piano 2:07
[18] IV. Allegro 2:44
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 5 in D major HWV323
[1] I. [Larghetto e staccato] 2:08
[2] II. Allegro 2:07
[3] III. Presto 3:29
[4] IV. Largo 2:11
[5] V. Allegro 2:31
[6] VI. Menuet: Un poco larghetto 2:31
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 6 in g minor HWV 324
[7] I. Larghetto affettuoso 3:00
[8] II. A tempo giusto 1:37
[9] III. Musette: Larghetto 4:42
[10] IV. Allegro 2:53
[11] V. Allegro 2:07
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 7 in B-flat major HWV 325
[12] I. Largo 1:12
[13] II. Allegro 2:39
[14] III. Largo 2:44
[15] IV. Andante 3:52
[16] V. Hornpipe 3:10
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 8 in c minor HWV 326
[17] I. Allemande 6:23
[18] II. Grave 1:33
[19] III. Andante allegro 1:42
[20] IV. Adagio 1:02
[21] V. Siciliana: Andante 3:14
[22] VI. Allegro 1:19
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 9 in F major HWV 327
[1] I. Largo 2:00
[2] II. Allegro 3:29
[3] III. Larghetto 2:42
[4] IV. Allegro 2:01
[5] V. Menuet 1:07
[6] VI. Gigue: Allegro 1:55
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 10 in d minor HWV 328
[7] I. Ouverture – Allegro – Lentement 3:51
[8] II. Air: Lentement 3:08
[9] III. Allegro 2:06
[10] IV. Allegro 2:54
[11] V. Allegro moderato 1:41
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 11 in A major HWV 329
[12] I. Andante larghetto e staccato 4:01
[13] II. Allegro 1:42
[14] III. Largo e staccato 0:33
[15] IV. Andante 3:56
[16] V. Allegro 6:02
Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 12 in b minor HWV 330
[17] I. Largo 1:55
[18] II. Allegro 2:51
[19] III. Aria: Larghetto e piano 2:23
[20] IV. Largo 0:38
[21] V. Allegro 1:57

Combattimento Consort Amsterdam
Jan Willem de Vriend, conductor

FLAC 24-352.8

FLAC 24-176,4

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