Music for Several Instruments Blog

Celebrating a Reunion by Dean Frey (19 May 2021)

Handel may not have planned this grouping of concertos himself, but the collection we know as Opus 3 is so appealing, so full of invention, so stylish, that it’s hard to be too harsh about this result of the oddities of 18th century norms of Intellectual Property. Handel had a most wonderful model for these works – Arcangelo Corelli – and if he borrowed a few melodies, rhythms and harmonies along the way, that’s fine, considering the fluidity of authorship at the time. A publisher may have rounded up Handel works willy-nilly into a publishable state, but in spite of this the results are surprising, full of depth and meaning. Umberto Eco’s great essay on the movie Casablanca is, I think, relevant:

When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.

Handel’s op. 3 collection is a test for any group: staying true to the letter & spirit of the score, while keeping the music sounding fresh and alive. Martin Gester and his Tasmanian group Van Diemen’s Band have done exactly that, in this wonderful new album from BIS. There’s plenty of fire burning here, but it’s within the context of impressive musical discipline and lightly-worn Historically Informed Performance scholarship. BIS provides the kind of direct and transparent sound that allows Early Instruments to flourish. This is a highly recommended release!