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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Suite in D minor, HWV 428 [23:03]
Suite in F minor, HWV 427 [8:33]
Suite in G minor, HWV 432 [19:50]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
From suite ‘Dans le style de G.F. Haendel’ K 399 (385i)
Allemande [3:42]
Daria van den Bercken (piano)
rec. 25-26 January 2012, Beethovensaal, Hannover, Germany.
SONY CLASSICAL 88765 418832 [67:56]

Compared to J.S. Bach’s various Suites and other masterpieces, Handel’s keyboard works don’t get nearly as much attention from pianists and record labels. There are a few good recordings around however, and newcomers will have to compete with the likes of Lisa Smirnova on ECM (see review), though the majority have been recorded on harpsichord. You will know from your own collection if this release is the answer to a gap which needs filling, but this is a superb recording which stands on its own terms, even if you already have some or all of this repertoire.
 
Daria van den Bercken is an excellent ambassador for good music in the Netherlands and beyond, performing regularly for children and in “unusual and surprising places”, and communicating with straightforward honesty and passion about music. This Handel programme is at least in part the result of a project called Handel at the Piano, and more information about this and van den Bercken’s approach to these pieces can be seen here.
 
The results are distinctively Handel as well as being personal and warmly expressed, the Bösendorfer instrument being one of fine tone and singing, sunny disposition, as well as having that rich range of fundaments and harmonics which make it a more musical and less showy choice for many pianists over your typical Steinway. There is spark and energy in movements such as the famous Presto which concludes the Suite in D minor, HWV 428. The more contemplative movements and passages are given a special atmosphere, the sheer simplicity of the opening Adagio from the Suite in F major, HWV 427 unspoilt by added layers of unwarranted profundity. This is an aspect of these pieces which both van den Bercken and Lisa Smirnova have absorbed, and I like both pretty much in equal measure, though Smirnova tends more towards the romantic in her interpretations. Van den Bercken allows these Adagio movements to work as moments of musing reflection, but the feeling of intent is also well maintained. There’s a core of structural wood and steel all over the place which makes everything hang together with irresistible and weather-proof strength, allowing expressive freedoms and poetic emotiveness to form the pinnacles of each creation.
 
Ornamentation is fairly restrained, though there is a decent amount of tasteful trilling, and musical conversations such as the Andante of the Suite in G minor, HWV 432 create interesting character and textural interest without going too far over the French border. The Sarabande from this suite is sublime, with a palpable freshness of daylight between the notes both here and in the following Gigue. There are some terrific extras added on to the three Suites, with the spectacular little Capriccio, HWV 467 a gem which acts as foil to the restrained undulations of the final Allemande by Mozart. This unequal sandwich is filled by a magnificent rendition of the Chaconne, HWV 467 and the meltingly charming Menuet in G minor, WHV434/4.
 
Put simply, this is a delicious disc to have around, and I look forward greatly to hearing very much more from Daria van den Bercken and this fine production team.
 
Dominy Clements

Experience Classicsonline