Daily Classical Music

It is not at all easy to sort the history and chronology of Handel’s keyboard music. Many pieces may have been written in his boyhood days at Halle; others were probably used for teaching in Hamburg, when he was playing regularly in the opera house. After his Italian period, he was briefly in Germany again and then finally in England, where more harpsichord music was written, and the various pieces were organised into ‘suites’ not always with the composer’s authority .

Gilbert Rowland hazards that there are some twenty-five suites in all. For present purposes there are nine on this pair of CDs as well as a Chaconne with twenty variations. The number of movements in the suites varies from three to six. The G minor suite begins with the arrangement of a resplendent cantata overture. The succeeding Andante is a lovely contrast in its quiet lyrical beauty.

Personally I enjoy the fact that the F major Suite has no dance movements with their often irksome repeats. It is quite simply a church sonata in the Corelli manner, alternating pieces slow and fast. Moreover, the final movement is a fugue, a procedure I relish quite as much as my very late grandmother disliked it. Handel will never fugue as rigorously as Bach, as his ear is always more tuned to dramatic effect.

The B flat Aria with variations makes a lovely conclusion to the first disc.

Gilbert Rowland smiles endearingly at us on the back of the booklet, with both hands on the lower manual of his harpsichord ; but alas that I cannot discover the name of the modern instrument’s maker. [nb this is actually given in the CD bookle.t] The playing is exciting and eloquent throughout, and Rowland thoroughly understands the subtle effectiveness of Handel’s panache.

—Robert Anderson