John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Handel’s celebrated “Oboe” Concertos.

Title:Handel’s celebrated “Oboe” Concertos. An anonymous late 18th century adaptation for Organ, Harpsichord or Piano Forte of Handel’s Six Concerti Grossi op. 3.

Editor:Gerald Gifford

Publisher: Edition HH HH288.sol


Reviewed by John Collins

After the publication by Edition HH of the highly successful two volumes of music in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, including a selection of pieces either by, or inspired by, Handel, Gerald Gifford now offers the first modern edition of this set of arrangements for keyboard of Handel’s six oboe concertos. Arrangements of vocal and chamber music have been a staple part of the keyboard repertoire throughout Europe since the earliest publications and MSS compilations right up to the present day. In England there flourished a vogue for arranging the music of Handel, from the publications of William Babel ca1715 right through to the 19th century editions of W. Callcott.

After the initial impetus from Walsh, one of the most prolific publishers of arrangements from Handel in the later 18th century was H. Wright, who produced not only a collection of the overtures from his operas and oratorios and several sets of choruses, but also these arrangements of the oboe concertos, possibly published in ca 1785. The number of movements in the six concerti varies from two (no. six) to five (nos. two and five), with nos. one and three having three, and no. four having four. Interestingly no. one in Bb concludes in G minor, and in no. six the opening allegro is in D major, the second and concluding movement in the tonic minor. No. four opens with a massive French overture, the opening with its demisemiquaver runs is followed by a fugal central movement with a syncopated subject, the movement concluding with a return to the style of the opening. No. five opens with a prelude and fugue, which also appear in other keyboard adaptations of Handel’s pieces. The Gavotte-like movements that conclude concertos nos. two and five, the former having a set of variations, the latter being in da-capo ternary form, are most attractive.

The allegros and vivaces are full of Italianate vitality and exuberance, the slow movements display a controlled warmth. Two of the allegros are based on fugues that had appeared in the 1735 Walsh publication of Six Fugues or Voluntarys for the organ or harpsichord, but a close comparison of these with the versions included in the collection under review will be rewarding. Other movements are also to be found in the set of eight suites for harpsichord published ca 1720; the fugal allegro of concerto no. five, here transposed from F# minor to D minor, is a reworking of the third movement of the sixth suite and the binary form allegro in D minor that concludes concerto no. six is a revised version of the last movement of the third suite - again, comparison with the originals will prove interesting. A few movements were supplied with a figured bass in the original print, faithfully reproduced in this modern edition, but filling out of the already well-realised texture is unnecessary in the main. Dynamics occur occasionally, mainly in the second concerto, almost certainly a nod to the expressive potential of the piano forte and not to be carried through on the organ. Several movements of these concertos also feature in different versions in Wright’s slightly later keyboard adaptations of the Overtures to the ten anthems composed…. For the Duke of Chandos.

As we have come to expect from Edition HH, the printing is very clearly laid out. This exemplary edition by Gerald Gifford contains a most informative preface on this outstanding music and its background, and with information for the performer it is essential reading prior to actually playing the music; the singularly comprehensive textual notes covering editorial method and the source used, and a full critical commentary will also assist the performer in questions of readings in many difficult passages. Several facsimile pages are included. Although we have no concrete information as to the arranger’s identity, these arrangements were probably made by a performer of some standing, and the imaginatively enterprising results display a far more accomplished awareness of the keyboard than some of the other broadly contemporary publications of Handel’s pieces. These pieces are technically quite demanding, with several tricky handshifts and jumps, and some of the semiquaver passages in thirds, and especially those in sixths, will pose a considerable challenge to those not well-versed in such luminaries as Bull, Sweelinck and Scheidt, and Dr. Gifford’s eminently practical suggestions for performance are a bonus. The suggested elaboration of the slow movement in concerto three is extremely helpful, similar suggestions for other adagio passages would have been equally useful to today’s performer who may not be so experienced in gracing them. The pleasure gained by a stylistically accurate performance more than repays the time required to attain this ideal. They are ideally suited to performance on organ, harpsichord and piano forte and fully deserve to be heard today in recitals.

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© John Collins 2013