~ NB. Not complete, as is commonly believed ~
Decca 458 333-2
Recorded between 1959-83
Reissued in 1998
- CD 1: Music for the Royal Fireworks; Water Music
- CD 2: Concerti grossi, Op. 6 nos. 1-6
- CD 3: Concerti grossi, Op. 6 nos. 7-11
- CD 4: Concerti grossi, Op. 6 no. 12; Concerti grossi, Op. 3
- CD 5: Organ Concerti, Op. 7 nos. 1-5
- CD 6: Organ Concerti, Op. 7 no. 6; Organ Concerti, Op. 4
- CD 7: Sonata from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno; Organ Concerti nos. 13-16; Oboe Concerti
- CD 8: Oboe Concerto, op. 3 no. 3
- Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (from Solomon)
- Concerto grosso from ‘Alexander’s Feast’*
- Concerti a due cori**
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (on modern instruments), directed by Neville Marriner
* Philomusica of London, directed by Granville Jones
** The Academy of Ancient Music, directed by Christopher Hogwood
Decca 458 333-2. 8 discs. Mid-Price.
Reissued in 1998 / Mostly recorded 1964-1975
The bulk of this boxed set was recorded before the period-instrument revolution (or whatever you may wish to call it). The performances are what might be described as ‘semi-stylish’: not bad, not great, tidy enough to be adequate, yet ultimately little more than satisfactory. Of course, there is nothing wrong with music-making being consistently satisfactory. Indeed, Marriner and his Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields have made a distinguished career out of it. Furthermore, classical music is self-indulgent – but perhaps in a more refreshing manner than these uninspiring and pedestrian performances.
The Water Music is steady and won’t rock the boat. The Fireworks Music is less than explosive. The concerti grossi are quite nice, but comparisons with later and more imaginative recordings (that happen to be on period instruments) is inevitable. This boxed set may be a bargain, but I don’t anticipate listening to many of these discs again. The oboe concerti are instantly forgettable, although perhaps the organ concerti fare best: George Malcolm’s organ solos are fresh and attractively delivered, and the inclusion of the flamboyant sonata from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno is a gratifying extra.
It is curious that some performances feature the young Christopher Hogwood on harpsichord continuo. It has been alleged that Hogwood formed his own ‘authentic’ ensemble The Academy of Ancient Music partly as a reaction against Marriner’s rather moderate and mushy approach to Handel. On the evidence of these recordings one can sympathise with Hogwood, although his own performances of the Concerti a due cori with his period band – surreptitiously inserted into the set and uncredited on the outer box - have not dated favourably either. For first class performances of these charming brassy concerti one still returns to Trevor Pinnock’s dynamic account with The English Concert, or, if you can find it, the wonderful recording by Tafelmusik (Sony, deleted).
Despite appearances, this boxed set is not a complete survey of all Handel’s orchestral music and concertos, although it is admittedly the closest thing to such a compilation yet produced. In terms of value alone, this boxed set may be worth acquiring, but money isn’t everything. This set is fine for completists, and the notes by Anthony Hicks are typically excellent, but as an introduction to the music Marriner’s work leaves a lot to be desired.
The comment on the back cover that this set contains ‘Baroque splendour at its most rewarding’ confirms one should never judge a book by its cover. One wonders how long ago the prominent quote from Gramophone (‘Splendidly light-footed … beautifully paced … particularly fine’) was written, and regarding which performance. If you must have an anthology like this, don’t hesitate to buy The English Concert’s splendid ‘Collectors Edition’ boxed set on Deutsche Grammophon. It is infinitely more rewarding, no matter what its sister company Decca is trying to make us believe. For modern instrument recordings of the Opus 6 concerti, Water Music, and the Fireworks Music, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on the recent reissued ‘Trio’ set (Deutsche Grammophon) is also worth investigating. My personal preference for the organ concerti remains Paul Nicholson and The Brandenburg Consort (Hyperion). Although it is more expensive to collect these alternatives, I suspect that in the long run it shall be money spent more wisely.
© David Vickers - August 2003
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