This third volume in Simon Standage’s series of Handel’s Opus 6 concerti brings the acclaimed set to an end.
Handel’s Opus 6 Concerti grossi represent a high point in baroque orchestral music and are deservedly popular. The combination of vigorous writing, dance movements, imaginative harmonic and melodic invention, and beautiful slow movements makes for endlessly enjoyable listening.
In the early Autumn of 1739, Handel set to work with a burst of energy, and completed his Op.6 Concerti grossi by the end of October. The remarkable inspiration and craftsmanship have assured them of a place alongside Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
The concerto grosso in D minor, Op 6 No 10 is one of the most stylistically varied of Handel’s Op 6 concertos. It begins with an Ouverture in the French operatic manner, with characteristic dotted rhythm in the opening section, followed by a lively fugue. A brief Lentement completes the typical tripartite pattern of the Baroque French Overture. The Air which follows has the character of a sarabande - again more French flavour. The remainder of the work consists of three Allegro movements, which are strongly contrasted with each other.
The Concerto grosso in A major, Op 6 No 11 is one of Handel’s most extended concertos and one that makes considerable demands on the three members of the concertino. Although published first, it is almost certainly preceeded by a version for organ and string orchestra. The opening movement is characterized by a strong but graceful dotted rhythm. The movement closes on the dominant and is followed by a fugal Allegro based on two themes. A brief Largo takes us into a minuet-like Andante. Handel calls extensively on his concertino, particularly the first violin in passages of extended virtuosity.
The varied Concerto grosso in B minor, Op 6 No 12 is profoundly expressive work. The brief Largo with which it begins evokes the ’ouverture à la français’ and leads into the first Allegro which shows an Italian bias in its persistent semiquavers. The Larghetto contains one of Handel’s most expressive melodies upon which an elaborate variation is built. A short Largo in Venetian style bridges the gap to the Allegro finale written in the style of a gigue.
Handel completed his Concerto grosso in C major in 1736, and it was first performed in the following month as interval music between the acts of his English ode Alexander’s Feast. Although next to the Op. 6 collection, it may not look so consistently impressive, it was taken to heart by his public. It is spaciously laid out and endowed with airy graceful melodies which make immediate appeal. It was published in 1740 and included in a collection called Select Harmony, making it accessible to amateur musicians and connoisseurs alike.