129:10 (2 CDs)
divine art DDA21225
HWV426, 440, 442, 445, 447, 448, 449, 451-3
Though renowned in his day as a keyboard virtuoso, Handel’s own music in this medium is relatively little known, and beyond the ‘Eight Great Suites’ of 1720, surprisingly seldom performed today. This double-disc release, (which I see from the notes is the third to appear) is thus doubly welcome. Gilbert Rowland has assembled a beguiling programme, ranging from the early suites in D minor (HWV 448) and G minor (HWV 453), via the first of the Great Suites (HWV 426), to the final ones in D minor (HWV 447) and G minor (HWV 452) written in 1739 as exercises for Princess Louisa, daughter of George II. Though all sharing the ‘suite’ title, the individual movements are wonderfully varied; in addition to the standard Allemandes, Courantes and Gigues, there are extended French Overtures, Sarabandes, Menuets, Airs and an astonishing Chaconne, with no fewer than 62 variations, to finish the recital. All posess the characteristic Handelian blend of melodic charm and harmonic substance.
Gilbert Rowland is a persuasive performer. His realisations of the chordal preludes are extremely convincing, and he decorates and varies reprises as the ‘Caro Sassone’ himself might have done. He plays a fine 2005 harpsichord by Andrew Wooderson, after Goermans (Paris 1750).