Handel was greatly influenced by Italian music following his visit there as a young man and this is perhaps most obvious in the style of his operatic output. Here the opus 6 Concerti Grossi get the Italian treatment in a stylish, lively, and hugely enjoyable set of performances by Il Giardino Armonico under the direction of Giovanni Antonini. There are twelve concerti in the set - two of four movements, three of six movements, and the remainder of five movements. All are relatively short, with most movements lasting around two or three minutes and only one for more than five minutes. However, within these the composer explores an astonishing range of styles and tempi presented in joyful and sprited playing by an orchestra that is clearly enjoying itself.
There are tunes aplenty here, some familiar from their use elsewhere - Handel was an adept recycler of his own work as well as a magnificent tunesmith. He also had a great ability to use musical styles from many different countries and cultures - this set of pieces includes French and Polish influences as well as the English, German and Italian that you would expect from the composer's background. There are many outstanding performances here, particularly of the livelier and rhythmic pieces - such as the Polonaise in no 3. If I had to pick a favourite performance it would probably be no 5 with its greatly contrasting styles - terrific playing of the staccato opening movement, calming down to the central Largo then finishing with the lively Allegro and stately Menuet. Gorgeous!
The package comes with a booklet with notes by Simon Heighes and with photos which concentrate on the players and their doings, rather than the composer and his era, which means that the front cover is rather bizarrely of a broken down bus! A more appropriate choice would perhaps be more likely to attract purchasers, but the quality of the music makes up for this odd marketing decision. There will doubtless be many more Handel releases in this year of the 250th anniversary of his death, but I suspect that few will beat this for a combination of performance and value-for-money. This is music to cheer yourself up with and I thoroughly recommend it.