The revered Italian keyboard master decided to take in a salon costume party while visiting Venice on his most recent concert tour. All attendees were appropriately masked, including one imposing figure seated at the harpsichord, playing. Listening to the performer for a moment, the Master, Domenico Scarlatti, remarked, Che può essere solo una delle due persone che giocano, il caro Sassone o il diavolo. ("That can be only one of two people playing: the dear Saxon or the Devil himself").
During an eight-month period in 1685, three titans of Baroque music were born: Georg Frederic Handel on February 23rd, Johann Sebastian Bach on March 21st, and Domenico Scarlatti on October 26th. While all keyboard proficient (which may be an unforgivable understatement, it was Bach and Scarlatti who left their indelible mark on the keyboard repertoire, with Handel's mark less pronounced. But il caro Sassone did produce a bit of solo keyboard music, quite a bit of it very good. While Bach and Handel never met, Scarlatti and Handel met several times, going head-to-head on one occasion at the behest of their mutual friend Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who hosted weekly meetings of the Accademie Poetico-Musicali in Rome, where the Cardinal invited prominent musicians of the day to perform.
It was at just such a soiree that Scarlatti met Handel. When the two met, in 1708, they were both twenty-three years old, and were chided by the Cardinal into keyboard competition with Ottoboni being the judge. Once completed, the Cardinal judged the two equal on the harpsichord, but giving Handel the edge in playing the organ. The two musicians remained friends.
All of this introduction to state the obvious, Handel's published keyboard output pales in comparison to either Scarlatti or Bach. Handel spent the better part of the 20th Century being the one-hit wonder who composed Messiah. Great as that accomplishment was, and, indeed, had this been all Handel composed, his place in history would have been secured. But Handel was a master of many musical things, keyboards not being the lease of them.
Primarily an opera composer, Handel took little care in the formal publishing of this keyboard compositions and was not motivated to do so until 1719, when a pirated edition of several of his keyboard compositions was published with no royalty to the composer. Ever the businessman, Handel assembled his "eight great suites" into a single edition, having John Cluer published them in 1720. These eight suites, HWV 426-433, have since been established as the anchor of Handel's keyboard composing repertoire. Handel produced a second volume of keyboard works in 1733, again reflecting the composer's lack of care. That said, Handel did get his keyboard affairs in order, making this current collection possible.
Handel: Complete Harpsichord Music brings together all of Handel's keyboard compositions beneath the same roof as performed on harpsichord by the Dutch harpsichordist Roberto Loreggian and German keyboardist Michael Borgestede. On disc 1 through 4, Loreggian concentrates on Handel's harpsichord music other than the eight suites, where Borgestede devotes discs 5 through 8 to the famous collection and plus the various other compositions from the composer's second volume of keyboard compositions.
Preferring to hear these pieces performed on the modern piano, I found these original harpsichord performances of equal enjoyment. Loreggian and Borgestede both possess an impressive early music pedigree as reflected in their accurate and dedicated playing here. The plus to this set is both its completeness and its sonic brilliance. If one can call the harpsichord sound "lush," then, this is it. These performances reveal Handel as every bit the keyboard composer as Bach had he been so inclined to specialize in it. There is both a restless mirth and uncertain darkness in Handel's keyboard music that is captured faithfully here. Tired of Messiah? Try these.
CD1: Suite in C Major, HWV 443: Chaconne; Partita in G Major, HWV 450;
Prelude in D Minor, HWV 563; Prelude and Capriccio in G Major, HWV 571;
Prelude in D Minor, HWV 564; Allegro in C Major, HWV 472; Chaconne in F
Major, HWV 485; Suite in D Minor, HWV 448.
CD2: Suite in D Minor, HWV 449; Keyboard Sonatina in D Minor,
HWV 581; Allemande in A Minor, HWV 478; Fugue in F Major, HWV 611;
Chaconne in G Minor, HWV 486; Partita in C Minor, HWV 444; Suite in C Minor,
HWV 445; Prelude and Allegro in A Minor, HWV 576; Air in G Minor, HWV 467;
Toccata in G Minor, HWV 586; Keyboard Sonatina in G Minor, HWV 583;
Keyboard Sonata in G Minor, HWV 580; Concerto in G Major, HWV 487; Air in B-
Flat Major, HWV 471; Preludium in F Major, HWV 567; Preludium in F Minor,
HWV 568; Prelude in G Minor, HWV 573; Prelude in E Major, HWV 566; Air in G
Minor, HWV 466; Air in B-Flat Major, HWV 470; Impertinence in G Minor, HWV
494; Air in F Major, HWV 465; Allegro in D Minor, HWV 475; Courante in B
Minor, HWV 489.
CD3: Prelude and Chaconne in G Major, HWV 442; Six Fugues: I.
Fugue No. 1 in G Minor, HWV 605; Six Fugues: II. Fugue No. 2 in G Major, HWV
606; Six Fugues: III. Fugue No. 3 in B-Flat Major, HWV 607; Six Fugues: IV.
Fugue No. 4 in B Minor, HWV 608; Six Fugues: V. Fugue No. 5 in A Minor, HWV
609; Six Fugues: VI. Fugue No. 6 in C Minor, HWV 610; Keyboard Sonata in C
Major, HWV 577; Capriccio in F Major, HWV 481; Prelude and Allegro in G Minor,
HWV 574; Fantasia in C Major, HWV 490; Suite in D Minor, HWV 447; Suite in G
Minor, HWV 452; Capriccio in G Minor, HWV 483.
CD4: Suite in C Minor, HWV 446; Allemande in A Major, HWV 477;
Allemande in F Major, HWV 476; Gigue in F Major, HWV 492; Prelude in D Minor,
HWV 562; Keyboard Sonatina in G Major, HWV 582; Keyboard Sonatina in B-Flat
Major, HWV 585; Prelude in F-Sharp Minor, HWV 570; Air in A Major, HWV 468;
Sonata for a Musical Clock in C Major, HWV 578; Prelude in A Minor, HWV 575;
Lesson in A Minor, HWV 496; Partita in A Major, HWV 454; Prelude in G Minor,
HWV 572; Keyboard Sonata in G Major, HWV 579.
CD5: Suite in A Major, HWV 426; Suite in F Major, HWV 427;
Suite in D Minor, HWV 428; Suite in E Minor, HWV 429.
CD6: Suite in E Major, HWV 430; Suite in F-Sharp Minor, HWV
431; Suite in G Minor, HWV 432; Suite in F Minor, HWV 433.
CD7: Suite in B-Flat Major, HWV 434; Chaconne in G Major, HWV
435; Suite in D Minor, HWV 436; Suite in D Minor, HWV 437; Suite in E Minor,
CD 8: Suite in G Minor, HWV 439; Suite in B-Flat Major, HWV
440; Suite in G Major, HWV 441; Preludio. Allegro; Rinaldo, HWV 7b: “Vo’ far
Michael Borgestede & Roberto Loreggian: harpsichord.
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