“Handel’s Memories” – A Selection from Grand Concertos Op. 6 – Al Ayre Espanol/ Eduardo Lopez Banzo, cond. & harpsichord – Challenge (2 discs)

by | Oct 17, 2012 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Handel’s Memories” – A Selection from Grand Concertos Op. 6 – Al Ayre Espanol/ Eduardo Lopez Banzo, cond. & harpsichord – [TrackList follows] Challenge multichannel SACD CC72548 (2 discs) 44:24; 50:02 [5/11/12] (Distr. by Allegro) *****:
While there are three competing SACD versions of the Op. 3 Handel Concerti Grossi there appear to be none of Op. 6.  (They are called either Grand Concertos or Concerti Grossi.) The writing is for a concertino trio of two violins and cello plus a ripieno of a four-part string orchestra with harpsichord continuo. The older concertos of Corelli were Handel’s models, and these concertos were designed to be played in the middle of performances of Handel’s oratorios and odes. There is no explanation in the album notes of how this particular selection from Op. 6 was made, but it is obvious that since there are a dozen concerti in the complete Op. 6, and the producers for Challenge didn’t want to issue two double-SACD volumes to cover all of them, a selection of three each on two SACDs would suffice.
Al Ayre Espannol was founded by Banzo in 1988 “to challenge the pervading cliches that often surrounded the performance of Spanish baroque music at that time.” But the group has not specialized strictly in early music, adapting to both a presence as a baroque orchestra and also a classical/romantic period orchestra. Banzo’s training was as a harpsichordist, and he is from Zaragoza. He has conducted all over the world and in the operatic field is a specialist in Handel’s operas.
No. 1 of the Grand Concertos was originally written to be performed during Handel’s Alexander’s Feast. No. 8 is quite dramatic and operatic. It uses themes from some of his operas, including some sicilianas he learned how to write from Alessandro Scarlatti when Handel had visited Naples. No. 10 is an homage to Purcell; it’s Air has the ambiguous tonality of some of Purcell’s works. A Naples connection is also heard in the fourth movement of No. 5 on the second SACD. It begins with a quote from Exercise No. 26 by Domenico Scarlatti.
The performances of these fine examples of the baroque concerto grosso are rich and sprightly; well captured by the Challenge engineers. The harpsichord (as expected, considering Banzo’s background) is perfectly balanced with the ensemble—not lost in it nor overly spotlit sonically.  A whole page of the note booklet is devoted to details of the recordists‘ principles—Northstar Recording. They mention that most older music requires a frontal presentation of the performance, but some works ask for the placement of musical instruments over a full 360 degrees soundscape. I hear this one as an example of the latter. They also use the full six channels (5.1) and recommend a subwoofer for the low frequencies under 40Hz.
Disc 1 – Grand Concerto Op. 6, No. 1 in G; No. 8 in c; No. 6 in g
Disc 2 – Grand Concerto Op. 6, No. 10 in d; No. 5 in D; No. 11 in A
—John Sunier

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