Handel: Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, Nos. 7-12 (CD review)

Martin Pearlman, Boston Baroque. Telarc CD-80688.

The concerto grosso was an important type of Baroque concerto, usually featuring a small set of solo instruments contrasted against a full orchestra. The form first developed around the mid seventeenth century and continued well into the eighteenth century, sometimes distinguished as "church" and "chamber" concerti until Torelli, Vivaldi, Bach, and others discarded the distinctions. The concerto grosso obviously evolved into the modern concerto for solo instruments we know today.

Telarc's booklet note for this disc informs us that George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) wrote his twelve Concerti grossi, Op. 6 (1739), in an astonishing one month! The cheap shot would be to say that it sounds like it, many of the concerti seeming for all the world alike. In fact, when listening to these works, I'm never sure when one has ended and the next has begun. But for folks who enjoy them, this new recording of the last six of them by Martin Pearlman and his Boston Baroque orchestra playing on period instruments is probably as good as any.

Pearlman gave us the first six of the opus some years earlier, and I understand that the critics and the public were kind to them. Although I have not heard the earlier set, I expect they are much the same as these, because what's not to like. The performances are lively in the outer movements and often serenely introspective in the Largos and Adagios. If anything, the contrasts may appear perhaps too pronounced, but I enjoyed the intensified effect. On period instruments we don't get quite as imposing an effect as we do with some performances on modern instruments, but Pearlman and his players are certainly graceful and refined, which helps make up for any lack of outright weightiness.

Moreover, Telarc's sound, recorded in 2007, is wonderfully realistic: warm, mellow, resonant, yet miked closely enough to provide plenty of breadth, detail, and depth. If you like the music, this disc and its earlier companion are among the best you'll find.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa