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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Concerti Grossi, Op.3 (HWV312-317) [54:11]
Concerti Grossi, Op.6 (HWV319-330) [153:24]
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Georg Kallweit (Op.3), Bernhard Forck (Op.6)
rec. Nikodemuskirche, Berlin, September 2018 and February 2019 (Op.6), and May 2019 (Op.3). DDD.
Reviewed as downloaded from lossless (wav) press preview
PENTATONE PTC5186271 [54:11 + 72:55 + 80:29]

It seems no time at all since I reviewed the Op.3 concertos from this set in my Late 2020 Retrospective. My only reservation was that the Hyperion Helios recording with the Brandenburg Consort comes at a lower price and includes both versions of No.4, the spurious one which Walsh first published, and the genuine article which Handel insisted should be substituted. The advantage of including No.4 and No.4a remains – the Walsh pastiche is worth having – but the price difference is slightly narrowed by the reissue of these three recordings as a set for around £33.

That’s not a massive saving, but it is a boon for those who didn’t snap up these recordings when they first appeared; it's much less of a bargain for anyone who bought the Op.3 or one of the Op.6 releases. For them, if they wish to complete the set, the original releases remain available, on hybrid SACD and as downloads up to 24-bit. It looks as if fans of SACD are going to be disappointed by the bundle; whereas the original releases came in that form, the set appears to be available on CD only. That’s not necessarily a problem: my review copy came in lossless (wav) format, equivalent to CD sound, and there’s little diminution in recording quality over the Op.6/7-12 disc, which I reviewed from the hi-res stereo layer of the SACD.

My review of the two Op.6 releases was partly from streaming in mp3 from Naxos Music Library and partly from SACD, and I commented that while the mp3 was good, the hi-res SACD sounded noticeably better. Comparing the new set in CD quality with the SACD, the difference is far less noticeable. And there’s always the option of 24-bit downloads, though that tends to be more expensive than the CD or SACD. If you really must have the highest-res, the Pentatone website offers 24-bit, PCM stereo or surround, or, for the really clued-up, DSD stereo or surround.

In my original review, I compared the Op.6 SACDs with some of the best of the earlier recordings, notably the Academy of St Martin with Neville Marriner on modern instruments but with a sense of period style, a Presto special CD set well worth considering, and, on period instruments, Trevor Pinnock with the English Consort (DG Archiv 4791932, 11-CD set, around £47, including Op.3 and Op.6), Andrew Manze with the Academy of Ancient Music (Harmonia Mundi HMU907228/29, download) and, a particular favourite, Christopher Hogwood with the Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra (Double Decca 4588172 - review of Avie reissue, no longer available).

This time I sat through the whole set, occasionally dipping into the Hogwood recordings for comparison, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. If anything, I appreciated the performances even more than first time around. My appreciation has also been shared by Curtis Rogers (Op.6/1-6 – review) and Michael Greenhalgh (Op.3 – review). I usually advise against playing such large sets in one go, but with the download tracks numbered from 01_01 to 03_32, not separated into the individual CDs, I broke my own rule, got carried away, and listened straight through, for over three hours.

If you want to grab the Op.3 and Op.6 concerti grossi in one go, I can think of no better way to do so.

Brian Wilson

Previous reviews (original releases)
Op. 3: Brian Wilson ~
Op. 6: Brian Wilson ~ Curtis Rogers

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