The Consort

This further volume in Gilbert Rowland’s complete recordings of Handel’s harpsichord suites presents ten suites – the first of the Eight Great Suites in A major published in 1720, two from the 1733 publication, and miscellaneous works from different periods in Handel’s life. As with the previous volume, it is fascinating to have both early and mature works by Handel presented together, and Rowland has once again provided comprehensive notes on the music and its music, while the recorded sound is excellent.

A comparison between the Preludes of the A major Suite HWV 426 which opens the first CD, and that of the D minor Suite HWV 449 which opens the second CD shows much more fluency of movement in the improvisatory texture of the latter. This D minor Suite has seven movements, and so is more substantial than most others; it is one of the most enjoyable in this compilation, with a lovely Aria and Variations and a greater variety of dance types than the other more standard four-movement suites.

Also very interesting are the two suites HWV 447 and 452 which were written in 1739 for Princess Louisa, daughter of King George II, who would have been about fifteen years old at the time. This is most attractive music, not so often heard, and draws some fine playing from Rowland. Other highlights for me were the lovely Sarabande from the B flat Major Suite HWV 440 from the 1733 collection – the filigree decoration in this is wonderful – while the lively ten variations of the Chaconne from the early Suite in D minor HWV 448 have echoes of the instrumental dances in Almira (1705), composed around the same time in Hamburg.

The Suite in G major HWV 442 which concludes the second CD is hardly a suite at all – just a Preludio and the impressive Chaconne with 62 Variations. Despite the undoubted grandeur and variety in these variations, I am left wondering whether Handel might be scraping the barrel – possibly trying to see how many more variations he could write than anyone else at the time.

The complete recording of Handel’s harpsichord suites is a tremendous undertaking, and if amongst the wealth of Handel’s music in this third CD I have a few small reservations – for instance a rather heavy Ouverture to the D minor Suite HWV 448 which ends the first CD, and ornaments and trills which are sometimes not quite so flowing as I would prefer – nevertheless this will be a hugely enjoyable recording for all those who appreciate Handel’s genius.

—Douglas Hollick