The brilliant recorder virtuoso Maurice Steger and ensemble La Cetra shine a spotlight on the exquisite chamber pieces that kept Handel’s devoted fans thoroughly entertained during the intermissions of his operas.
Handel was a sensation in London in the 1720s and 1730s. His Italian operas were on stage every night during the concert season, and his audiences were swept away by the music’s honest and emotional power. The composer knew well that maintaining a buzz around his music would keep his audiences coming, and he circulated arrangements of what were known as his “favourites” so that amateurs could indulge in them at home. When he later pioneered the distinctive genre of the sacred oratorio, Handel himself would appear at intermissions to perform an organ concerto – often peppered with familiar tunes, to the great delight of the crowd.
Mr Handel’s Dinner is a sparkling tribute to Handel’s unstoppable imagination. Included alongside Handel's own are pieces by three of the composer’s contemporaries, including one of the few composition students that’s known to have worked with Handel, William Babell.
Recorder player Maurice Steger adds plenty of dazzle of his own, taking up six different instruments over the course of the CD. In Gottfried Finger’s addictive Ground in D minor (track 18), Steger practically hypnotizes you with the tenor recorder’s low and airy sound, gradually adding layers of rhythm and fullness until it feels like a bewitching dance over the haunting repetition of the bass line. It makes you wish you could stay in this dream for a good long time.
Contrast that with Handel’s A minor Sonata for flute and harpsichord. The first Allegro (track 20) is a showstopper, with harpsichordist Sebastian Wienand deep into an irresistible groove that you won’t believe, while Steger’s up to his usual unimaginable virtuosity, this time on an alto recorder. It is pure, unabashed fun.
Everything here is music designed to keep an audience captivated, and it delivers. Steger and La Cetra are phenomenal.
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