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George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759) 
Concerti Grossi, Op. 3 (1734):
No. 1 in B flat major, HWV 312
No. 2 in B flat major, HWV 313
No. 3 in G major, HWV 314
No. 4(b) in F major, HWV 315
No. 5 in D minor, HWV 316
No. 6 in D major, HWV 317
No. 4(a) in F major, HWV Anh. B 319
Berliner Barock Solisten / Reinhard Goebel
rec. 2019, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin

Following its set of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos released in 2018 on Sony (review), early music specialist Reinhard Goebel and the Berliner Barock Solisten have turned their attention to another of the great Baroque works, Handel’s set of Concerti Grossi, Op. 3.

Using the commercial success of Corelli’s 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 as a model, English music publisher John Walsh assembled 6 Concerti Grossi of Handel into a set that was published in 1734 as opus 3. It seems possible that initially Handel himself had no say in which works were to be contained in the set. For a reprinted edition, Handel evidently asked Walsh to replace Concerto Grosso No. 4 which he hadn’t written with one he had. On this recording, Goebel includes both versions of No. 4, as do conductors Nikolaus Harnoncourt / Teldec and Roy Goodman / Hyperion on their sets.

Goebel is best known as founder of early music ensemble Musica Antiqua Köln (1973-2007), whom he directed for thirty-three years and were renowned for their recordings using period instruments notably on Archiv Produktion. For a number of years Goebel has collaborated with the Berliner Barock Solisten and in 2018 he was named its artistic director. Employing a flexible approach to period informed performance, the Berliner Barock Solisten use modern instruments and where old ones are used, they are fitted with modern set-ups such as metal strings etc. Goebel has stated, “I see the future of Baroque orchestral music in the hands of modern ensembles – the fetish of the ‘original instrument’ has had its day, but not the profoundly trained professional who guides an orchestra into the deeper dimensions of the composition. For it isn’t the instrument that makes the music, but the head!” Now an advocate of employing a flexible, period-informed approach Goebel has used his vast experience in early music to determine the choice of instruments for this recording.

For the Concerti Grossi, Op. 3, Goebel uses a maximum of twenty players but of course not all are playing in the same works. The tone of the Berliner Barock Solisten sounds more substantial than I expected, and I wonder if even fewer players could have been used in the string section for a leaner, possibly more focused sound. Throughout, the pacing is ideal for my taste, and considerable energy and vivacity are given to Goebel’s Allegros with rhythms that are reliably resilient, while the slow movements have both beauty and a sense of intimacy. Recorded under studio conditions at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin, the overall sound of the orchestra has reasonable clarity, and the solo instruments have been well caught. I especially relish the tone of the flute (track 10) and organ (track 22). Reinhard Goebel has written an essay and helpful information is provided about both the conductor and the orchestra.

This album is extremely well performed and I will definitely return to it, but I cannot forgo my preferred accounts, first, from The Brandenburg Consort, using period instruments directed by Roy Goodman from 1992, for its elevated levels of vivacity, charm and colour on Hyperion Helios; the second recording worthy of praise is Nikolaus Harnoncourt directing the Concentus Musicus Wien, also on period instruments, recorded in 1979/80 on Teldec.

Michael Cookson

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