Handel: 8 Great Suites for harpsichord

Asako Ogawa
135:32 (2 CDs in a card triptych)
First Hand Records FHR142

Coming in the wake of Francesco Corti’s recent recording of this repertoire, Ogawa’s CD inevitably invites comparison, and I am pleased to report that her playing stands up very well. While not by any means eschewing flamboyance, Ogawa is more sparing in her displays and concentrates on lucidity of sound and clarity of voice leading, with a subtle use of ornamentation. She is reflective in slower movements and exciting in faster ones like the Courantes and Gigues, while retaining a sense of poise. Occasionally, some stodginess creeps into her use of notes inégales, particularly in the Allemandes. As well as the eight Suites, she includes the Chaconne in G major, HWV 435, where effective registration and a strong sense of momentum keeps the music alive throughout. Climaxes in this and other pieces are built steadily, for instance in the so-called ‘Harmonious Blacksmith’ variations in HWV 430: this builds inexorably to a thrilling ending, with Ogawa giving us an extra repeat of the final section where she metaphorically pulls out all the stops. Her reading of the G minor Suite HWV 432 particularly impressed me. She plays on a harpsichord by Klaus Ahrend 1973, based on a model by Dulken, with a beautifully mellow sound; it is quite closely miked, but with just enough reverberation for beauty of tone and clarity. Ivan Moody manages to cram lots of relevant information into his liner notes. Overall, this recording is a considerable achievement and can be recommended for many gratifying insights.

Noel O’Regan

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