The Classical Reviewer

Gilbert Rowland’s previous volumes in his series of Handel’s Suites for Harpsichord for Divine Art have proved to be superb, something I found when reviewing Volume 2 back in April 2013. Now with Volume 3, Rowland completes this series in a release that is just as impressive. Again Rowland plays a copy of a two manual French harpsichord after Goermans (Paris 1750), built by Andrew Wooderson in 2005.

Of Handel’s works for harpsichord HWV426-455 (Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis) Gilbert Rowland excludes only HWV446, a Suite for Two Harpsichords of which only the music for one instrument survives and HWV455 that, whilst listed as a harpsichord suite, is in fact a keyboard arrangement of Handel’s orchestral Ouverture HWV336 and Suite HWV354 . All of Handel’s 27 Suites for Harpsichord are here in this series including Handel’s the Suites de Pièces (1720) known as the Eight Great Suites and Suites de Pièces known as the Second Volume (1733-34), as well as the Chaconne in G major HWV435.

It is the first of the so called Eight Great Suites , the Suite in A major, HWV 426 published in 1720, that opens Volume 3 with a Prelude that reveals some beautifully rich sonorities, expertly laid out with some lovely flourishes as well as a fine expansive sound. There is a beautifully poised Allemande with a great clarity of line before Rowland brings some fine energy to the Courante , extracting more fine sonorities. The Suite concludes with a terrific Gigue, full of rhythmic bounce, a true dance rhythm.

The Suite in D minor, HWV 447 along with the Suite in G minor, HWV 452 is one of a pair written in 1739. Both are the last such pieces that Handel wrote. The Allemand e has a lovely, relaxed quality, exquisitely drawn with a Courante that has a natural flow, again with a lovely transparency of line. The Sarabande is particularly attractive before a nicely sprung Gigue to conclude.

The Suite in G minor, HWV 452 also opens with an Allemande but this time with a great forward impetus. With the Courante, Rowland again brings a fine flow, a lovely overlaying of musical lines. The leisurely Sarabande is quite lovely before a Gigue that is full of energy and spirit with Rowland bringing some fine textures and sonorities.

The Allemande of the Suite in B flat major, HWV 440 , from the Second Collection of 1733-34 is beautifully paced with Rowland bringing subtle little tempi variations. There is a nice steady pace to the Courante allowing every line to be revealed, always a fine momentum. The Sarabande brings some quite exquisite variations with some phenomenally fine playing from this harpsichordist before the Gigue that has great rhythmic bounce.

The Ouverture of the Suite in D minor, HWV 448 brings a fine full tone showing this to be a really grand overture before dashing off in a terrific theme. The Allemande has a poise and delicacy that contrasts well, not to mention occasional beautifully rich deeper sonorities. The following Courante moves forward quickly with a great fluency and terrific phrasing before Sarabandes I and II bring a leisurely flow, beautifully laid out with a lovely poise. There is a lively Chaconne to end this Suite with Rowland bringing a terrific forward drive, great panache and a terrific conclusion, so fluent. This really is fine playing.

The second disc of this set opens with the Suite in D minor, HWV 449 . As with the Suite in D minor, HWV 448 it is another of the Miscellaneous Suites probably composed before Handel left Germany in 1707. It is a substantial piece in seven movements, beginning with a terrific opening Prelude where Rowland really grabs the attention, finely paced and phrased with great fluency before an Allemande that has a fine natural forward flow and some lovely details. It is Rowland’s fine phrasing and sense of momentum that makes the Courante so fine before the gently flowing Sarabande. The Aria of the Aria and 7 Variations brings a lovely little theme that is taken through a great series of variations with a non-stop flow of great fluency, beautifully controlled with varying tempi, drawing lovely sonorities. The Giga has some very fine rhythmic subtleties brought out by Rowland before we reach the lovely, rather gentle Menuet.

The Suite in G minor, HWV 453 takes us back to the earlier compositional life of Handel, c.1705-06. This four movement work opens with an Ouverture , stately and beautifully laid out with lovely decorations before arriving at a fine forward flow. The Entrée is wonderfully lively, full of joy before the poised Menuets I and II that receive some lovely subtle changes of tone and sonority. The Chaconne has such well-chosen tempo allowing the music to unfold beautifully.

The incomplete Suite in C minor, HWV 445 was also written around 1705-06 and consists of just three movements, a lovely expansive, florid Prelude before a gently flowing Allemande with lovely phrasing and lovely decorations and a Courante that really draws the ear with its lovely harmonies.

Suite in G minor, HWV 451 is another incomplete Suite, this time consisting of just two movements and dating from c. 1703-06. The Allemande is thoughtfully presented, again with such lovely variations of sound drawn from this lovely instrument. The remaining Courante has a lovely buoyancy.

Another work from around 1703-06 is the Suite in G major, HWV 442 . It opens with a short, sparkling Preludio before launching into the Chaconne and 62 Variations. The stately chaconne precedes a tremendous outpouring of variations. If you are not already bowled over by Rowland’s playing by now, this will surely captivate the most jaded ear. Gilbert Rowland brings spectacularly fine playing as Handel’s marvellous invention pours out. Absolutely terrific.

Gilbert Rowland draws so many lovely phrases, colours and textures to add to his terrific fluency, joy and sheer panache. He also brings natural authority and command. The recording again made at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire, England is absolutely first class and there are excellent booklet notes by Gilbert Rowland.

The combination of Handel, Gilbert Rowland, Wooderson’s fine harpsichord, the recording venue at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire and the recording engineer John Taylor is unbeatable providing, as it does, a collection of these wonderful suites that I will return to again and again.

Sometimes with a project of this kind everything comes together as it does magnificently in this series. At mid-price these discs should be snapped up without delay.

—Bruce Reader