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Handel: Organ Concertos - Schmitt/Matt

Handel: Organ Concertos - Schmitt/Matt

Brilliant Classics  92605

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Handel: Organ Concertos

Christian Schmitt (organ)
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
Nicol Matt (conductor)

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Review by John Miller - December 16, 2007

Handel wrote his organ concertos as an attempt to stave off insolvency when the fickle London audiences turned away from his Italian-style operas. He hit on the idea of inserting an orchestral piece with organ as an interval surprise, and thus invented the organ concerto, with himself as soloist (to save money). Most of these works were put together with borrowings from his own and other composer's tunes, such as Telemann and Muffat. In the days before copyright law, such borrowings were commonplace, and it was considered a challenge for a composer to re-work the music more effectively than its originator.

A selection of four excellent concertos from Handel's two published volumes are recorded here, by the vastly experienced Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of Nicol Matt; in G minor (Op. 4/1) - also known as Alexander's Feast, G minor (Op. 4/3). D minor (Op. 7/4) and the short A major (HWV 296a). The D minor, with its unusual gravely beautiful opening on lower strings digs deeper emotionally than the other pieces, and may well have been related to the mood of its parent opera, which is sadly not known. Additionally, we have the Harp Concerto, the original form of Organ Concerto in B flat major (Op. 4/6).

Handel would have played a small portable organ in theatres not supplied with one, and a lovely small instrument is used by organist Christian Schmidt, which is a Mühleisen of 1992 in the Castle Chapel, Solitude. Its sound is quite bright, and there are some lovely solo flutes. Schmidt is less inclined to florid extemporisation in the ad libitum sections than his collegues in other recordings, but swaps notes with the orchestra very deftly. The tuning of the organ and orchestra sound good to my non perfect pitch ears.

In general Matt and his band take a slightly more relaxed view of the music, compared for example with Schröder and Concerto Amsterdam on Pentatone's RQR full set, who are more robust. Some might say that the Stuttgart's style with Handel is somewhat old fashioned in comparison with the vogue for the abrasive, high-energy of some more historically aware ensembles nowadays. However, I found it elegant, sweet-toned and graceful with soulful adagios and dancing allegros. After all, the Baroque preoccupation was with beauty of sound, and here there is sweet violin sound and vibrato to boot. The Harp Concerto is a particular sparkling delight in the hands of Charlotte Balzereit, and if you want this original version of the organ concerto, this is the one to have in the SACD world.

No details of the recording are given in the sleeve notes, but it appears to be PCM and certainly is 5.0. The multichannel balance is very good, portraying the small chapel with the organ behind the orchestra, who are spread wide between the speakers, with quite good positional information. The lower strings could have done with a little more depth of tone, but the harpsichord is well in evidence.

The booklet, in English, gives us a useful account of the operas in which the concertos were used, where known, and also intimates where some of their tunes were borrowed from. There is a useful specification for the organ.

All in all, affectionate performances and a most entertaining sample of the organ concertos if you do not wish to invest in a full set.

Copyright © 2007 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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