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GRAMOPHONE (05/2017)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

A nice idea this, to complement London Early Opera’s ‘Handel in Italy’ and ‘Handel at Vauxhall’ series with a project focusing on the nine months Handel spent in Dublin in 1741-42 overseeing the premiere of Messiah, performances of several other oratorios and doubtless numerous smaller musical events.

Yet, while music-loving Dubliners must have become familiar with Handel the keyboard player, can the idea of him in Ireland be conjured in a harpsichord recital? Bridget Cunningham tries by including contemporary transcriptions (probably not by Handel) of the overtures to Messiah and Esther and of a strange little piece called Forest Music anecdotally said to have been written by Handel in Ireland (though nothing about that is certain). She adds her own arrangements of two folk melodies Handel is known to have admired (in one of which she doubles on harp), and works by the Irish-born Thomas Roseingrave and Charles Thomas Carter. William Babell’s arrangements of arias from Rinaldo and an actual, proper Handel suite fill out the rest.

She does not always help herself, however, especially with her ordering, which seems to be governed more by genre than by ear. Babell’s garrulous ‘Vo far guerra’ variations is a tiresome thing which gives the off-button a tempting appearance as early as track 2. How much better if she had introduced one of her delightful folk-song settings here to set a more glowing Irish tone, yet for some reason these are tucked away together at the end, too late to work their magic.

Cunningham plays on two strong and deep-toned harpsichords in a dryish acoustic that can be a touch tough on the ears and in places unforgiving to fingerwork. A little more imaginative use of spread chords might have softened things a little, especially in a piece like ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’. Vol 2 of Handel in Ireland promises ‘glorious orchestral and vocal music’ – much more the ticket, I would say.

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