Edinburgh 1742 : Barsanti and Handel

Ensemble Marsyas, dir. Peter Whelan
68:00
Linn CKD 576

This excellent CD takes advantage of two sets of circumstances nearly three centuries apart: firstly, that in 1742 Edinburgh was a burgeoning centre of the arts and of Baroque music in particular, and, secondly, that nowadays the ‘The Athens of the North’ is enjoying a second golden age of Baroque performance. In a programme designed to celebrate concerts given by the Edinburgh Musical Society in the mid-18th century, Peter Whelan and his ensemble give us five of Francesco Barsanti’s ten op.3 Concerti Grossi  along with a set of his charming Scots song settings, together with a march, an aria and a horn concerto by Handel, an arrangement by the composer of two movements from his Water Music. The horn was still a relative orchestral novelty, having been first introduced by Handel in his Water Music some twenty years earlier, and would have been a considerable attraction in Edinburgh. Whelan’s two excellent horn players, Alex Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters, also feature prominently in the Barsanti Concerti, which turn out to be works of superlative quality, in which the standard high Baroque pomp is regularly shot through with a poignant melancholy or enlivened by quirky folk rhythms in a style which is both masterly and distinctively individual. The crystal-voiced Emilie Renard, whom I heard recently singing Handel to wonderful effect at the Lammermuir Festival, gives a splendidly dramatic account of “Sta nel’Iscana” from Handel’s Alcina, while violinist Colin Scobie provides infectiously lilting accounts of four of Barsanti’s Old Scots Tunes. This terrific CD, bustling with energy and creativity, gives a vivid impression of Edinburgh in 1742 and at the same time conveys a marvellously upbeat picture of the current state of early music performance in Scotland.

D. James Ross