HANDEL: The Eight Great Suites – Danny Driver, piano – Hyperion CDA68041/2 (2 CDs), 141:44 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
It was at his residence in Cannons, where the young Handel who had returned to England only about five years earlier for the last time, decided to compose seven of the eight Suites found on this album. With Esther and the Chandos Anthems fresh in mind he embarked on this set that he published himself in 1720. This was deemed necessary as the composer was falling victim to a common malady at the time–plagiarism–and decided to set the record straight.
Some of the music may actually have its origins in Handel’s Hannover years–there is no way of knowing for sure–and the music in general lacks the stylistic consistency of Bach’s corresponding opuses. Yet for all the vagaries and “international” flavor of these multifaceted pieces, the unifying element remains in the innate tunefulness of the music, something that transcends the Italian, Gallic, and Teutonic flavors that so inhabit these works, with no uniformity of number of movements, or indeed their ordering.
As a result there is a terrific feeling of spontaneity in this music that one doesn’t find in the more considered and robustly structured music of Bach, and this adds greatly to the attraction. Danny Driver seems to understand this difference of approach that is needed, and he uses his grand piano to emphasize the clarity, texture, melodic sensitivity, and overall harmoniousness of a balanced and finely touched keyboard in order to bring these Suites to life. What is not used is excessive pedaling or overplayed dynamic on order to achieve an artificial dramatic effect.
I am not one that goes into spasms every time a baroque work is played on the piano, and I fully believe that Bach and Handel would have embraced the modern grand. Driver proves the point in this outstanding release, recorded to perfection at Potton Hall in Suffolk, and this is easily recommendable as a first and even only recording of these wonderful pieces.
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