HANDEL: Arrangements for Guitar = Sonata in a, Op. 1/4, HWV 362; Suite No. 8 in D, HWV 441; Suite No. 7 in d, HWV 432 – Robert Gruca, guitar – MSR Classics MS 1417, 54:49 [Distr. by Albany] *****:
This disc of recycled delights is a pure joy. Handel of course was no stranger to arrangements—the one sonata here was for recorder, and material from it was used in eight other works as well! The recorder is not an ancient instrument, which might surprise many people. In Handel’s time it was extremely popular and so it was an easy decision for him to write a whole series of pieces for the instrument. Most were done around 1712 and so are quite early, even though they were published about 15 years later. This transcription is done by the indomitable David Russell, and is fully stretched to the limits of the instrument.
The other two pieces are direct arrangements of the Harpsichord Suites. They were most likely created even earlier than the recorder sonatas, around 1703-06, but published much later because bad copies had been circulating, and used for instruction of his students while in Hamburg. The suites in general are much simpler in style than others of the period (especially Bach) reflecting a student orientation, yet are replete with melodic charm and contagious rhythms. Handel himself would no doubt have embellished the works severely during performance, assuming he ever played these pieces in public. But they transfer well to guitar, and these arrangements are full, technically very much in the spirit of the originals, and sound crisp and resonant to the ear.
American guitarist Robert Gruca is a brilliant player with gorgeous tone and a flawless sense of rhythm. I have rarely heard these works played with such finesse and understanding on either harpsichord or piano. There are not a lot of Handel albums for guitar so this one is doubly welcome, and MSR has captured the wonderful acoustics of St. Stanislaus’s church in Cleveland to perfection.