“[These suites] have rarely been recorded or promoted by harpsichordists during the most recent revival of interest in ‘early music.’” I realize that Richard Egarr is entitled to his own opinions—his liner notes on an earlier release, for example, likened the humor in Purcell’s harpsichord music to that of the wonderful old 1950s BBC comedy The Goon Show —but he’s not entitled to his own facts. Christopher Brodersen pointed out in a 2011 review of these works featuring Laurence Cummings ( Fanfare 34:5) that ArkivMusic listed nine complete sets played on the harpsichord, with several others on the piano. I find some of the suites have considerably more recordings than that, in 2014: 26 for the Suite in A Major, 28 for the Suite in D Minor, 25 for the Suite in E Minor, 47 for the Suite in E Major. If such numbers reflect rare recordings, I have to wonder what Egarr would consider a moderate number, let alone a frequent one.
Trevor Pinnock is one of the world's leading exponents of historical performance practice, and this collection of Baroque keyboard favorites is one of his most successful attempts to communicate his musical values to a broad audience. These popular works are often anthologized, but seldom have they sounded as fresh and exciting as they do here. Handel's Harmonious Blacksmith and Bach's Italian Concerto are the best known of these selections, though Pinnock's playing liberates them from their use as flashy encore pieces and instead treats them as more intimate entertainments. François Couperin's magical Les baricades mistérieuses and Rameau's Gavotte Variations are also well known, and their inclusion on any disc of the harpsichord's "greatest hits" is de rigueur. Domenico Scarlatti's two Sonatas in E major are still brilliant, even at the lower tuning (A=415). The remaining works of this collection are perhaps less-widely heard, but each offers insights into both Pinnock's interpretive skills and the instrument's wealth of possibilities.
Brilliant Classics continues its famous Composer Edition series with one of the giants of the Baroque, George Frideric Handel, the celebrated German who settled in London. Having absorbed the German and Italian styles of his time he formed his own distinctive musical language, which, while following the current fashions and audience preferences, retained his own deep humanity and inner power.
It’s an achievement when an artist can take a well-known work and interpret it freshly as if heard for the first time. This Marc Minkowski does with Handel’s Water Music by daring to challenge convention and expectation. Firstly Minkowski chooses to ignore modern musicology, which considers the work a continuous piece or a sequence of movements first in F major or D minor, then a mix of movements in D major and G major. Minkowski follows the earlier performance practice of presenting the Water Music as three suites, respectively grounded in F, G and D major which used to be called the Horn, Flute and Trumpet suites, designating the notable solo instruments. Minkowski also includes the two variant movements in F, HWV331, which are now thought to be a revision by Handel to create a freestanding concerto.