Fanfare

Here is the final set of harpsichord suites, the first disc of which was reviewed back in 2012 (35:3) by Christopher Brodersen and the second from 2013 by myself (37:1). Having had the space of several years and given the comments made back then, this third set seems to have taken many of these into consideration. The sound is still robust, but the articulation seems cleaner, and Gilbert Rowland has played around a bit more with his tempos and ornaments. Registrations too seem to be occasionally better used to the music’s advantage, such as in the soft Allemande of the Suite in A Major. This in turn has given a nice depth to the set. Among the pieces, the lyrical Sarabande of the D-Minor Suite (HWV 447) is lyrical, but his continuous use of ornaments causes the work to unfold at a soft, even mincing pace with fine nuances. This contrasts with the equivalent movement in the second D-Minor Suite (HWV 448), where the constant ornaments are almost maniacal. Of course, the former leads directly into a sort of frenetic gigue, while the latter concludes with a full-bodied chaconne, a more powerful and virtuoso movement. The first work on the second disc, another D- Minor Suite (HWV 449) opens with a Prelude that could easily have been written by J. S. Bach, com­plex harmonically and certainly worthy of being called a fantasia with its broad compass of the in­strument in runs and scales. Of course, Bach would have extended it beyond the brief span of this Prelude, but certainly the grandeur is there. The remainder of the works on the disc get progressively shorter, which is not surprising given that they are all probably early works and may either have been unfinished or else the remaining portions are lacking. Here too, though, there is a sampling of Handel’s ability to vary work continuously. In the G-Major Suite (HWV 442), the second of the two movements consists of a huge Chaconne (with 62 variations, no less, lasting over 17 minutes). These range from simple chordal outlines to rather complex virtuoso lines, and in between Handel inter­sperses some more cautious lyrical variations.

As with my first review, this is not music that one should listen to at one go, since it can sound the same over time as the metallic timbre of the harpsichord tends to outweigh the subtleties of the ornamentation. Rowland’s performances have grown over the course of the set, and I find that this is a fitting culmination with solid playing and a fine sense of ornamentation. While there might be some caution on individual suites in terms of performance style, I find that this will be a good edition to have.

—Bertil van Boer