Complete Organ Concertos
~ HWV 289-296; 304; 306-311 ~

DG Archiv "Trio" series 469 358-2
3 CDs
budget price
Originally recorded in 1982-3.
First released in 1984.
Reissued in 2002.

Simon Preston - organ
Ursula Holliger - harp (Opus 4 no. 6, HWV 294)

The English Concert (on period instruments)
Trevor Pinnock (conductor)





Simon Preston's recordings of the complete set of Handel's organ concertos with Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert was the first to use the latest musicological research by Anthony Hicks. These recordings remain unsurpassed from a scholarly point of view, and the performances themselves remained a benchmark for at least a decade. They may not be the best versions available now but still have a lot to offer. Preston's performances are alert and still sound very vibrant and strong, yet it must be confessed that the rather harsh sound of Preston's instrument in Opus 7 verges on becoming joyless at times. Opus 4 is much better, with a particularly lovely rendition of the Harp Concerto (Op.4 no.6) featuring harpist Ursula Holliger. The English Concert play with consistent vividness, and crisp articulation abounds throughout all performances. Trevor Pinnock - a talented organist himself - is content to allow his orchestra to do the talking.

Those wanting the most refreshing and stimulating performances of the repertoire ought to own the double disc set by Paul Nicholson and The Brandenburg Consort (on Hyperion, and featuring a choral alternative for Op.4 no.4), and maybe also a similar set by Ton Koopman and The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (on Erato, and featuring one of the few versions of Op.4 no.6 with the organ as solo instrument instead of the harp). Yet neither of these superb sets feature every Handel organ concerto, and Preston's interpretations remain useful and are a generally satisfying ingredient of a good Handelian library.

Although these recordings date from the earliest days of the compact disc, previous to this excellently produced reissue they were only available at full price. Now at mid-price, yet with all the superb original documentation and scholarly references to sources by Anthony Hicks retained, they are now particularly desirable acquisitions for the curious Handelian. It is unusual for a major record company to reissue 3-disc sets, and even rarer for them to reproduce old product with such attention to detail. There are some Handel gems in the Universal Classics back catalogue that have been unavailable for some time. Charles Mackerras's Saul, Neville Marriner's Jephtha, and Trevor Pinnock's Belzhazzar are all 3-disc recordings of prime importance that are currently missing from their catalogue. It is therefore to be fervently hoped that Universal Classics include them as future 'Trio' reissues.

David Vickers - July 2002

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