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Reviewer :
 Lindsay Kemp

Anyone who agreed with my eager recommendations of recent Handel ‘Great Suites’ recordings by Pierre Hantaï (smoothly singing lines, rippling virtuosity and exquisite tonal judgement in the first four only – Mirare, 2/21) and Francesco Corti (orchestral sweep and devil-may-care interventionist brilliance in all eight and more – Arcana, 5/22) will perhaps not be looking for another recording already. If your enjoyment did not match mine, however, here is an opportunity to sample another approach. Ton Koopman presents suites Nos 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8, recorded in his own home, whose analytically close acoustic makes textural clarity and precision a must. Crisp, often snappy articulation helps him achieve this with considerable deftness in fugal movements such as the second Allegro of the F major (No 2) or the Gigue of the F minor (No 8), but can also inhibit cantabile in a movement such as the Sarabande of the G minor (No 7). Koopman certainly can make the instrument sing – there is lovely playing on single eight-foot in the allemandes and the Adagio of the F major – yet produces something strangely broken-up and snatched-at in, say, the D minor (No 3) Prelude or the G minor Ouverture.


Koopman’s reputation for enthusiastic embellishment is surprisingly reined in here, being largely restricted to short right-hand fill-ins, twiddles and curlicues, even in showier movements. Those who find Hantaï and (particularly) Corti too free with Handel’s score will be reassured by this more tempered approach. Also unexpected are the steady speeds of some faster movements, perhaps intended as another way of maintaining coherence, though at risk to the music’s energy. Mind you, it is nice to hear the D minor Presto not being torn at like a rat by a dog, as some players do, and there are some pleasingly lilting tempos in the G minor Passacaille – not too weighed down by Romantic ‘grandeur’ – and the delicious fourth double in the D minor Air and variations.

It seems unusual to find Koopman on the restrained end of the spectrum in music that so needs to be brought off the page; as an alternative to Hantaï and Corti he has his strengths and is never dull, but there is greater fluency and joy to be had, I think, from Sophie Yates (Chandos, A/92).

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