Steven Isserlis and Richard Egarr here assemble all the viola da gamba sonatas written by three composers born in the propitious year of 1685: one each by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, and three by JS Bach. Isserlis plays them on the gamba’s modern cousin, the cello, and the microphone loves his playing, picking up all the nuances and scampering asides from his soft-spoken instrument which can sometimes get lost in big concert halls. Egarr on harpsichord matches Isserlis’s eloquence and rambunctious energy all the way. The dreamy, airy slow movement of Bach’s Sonata in G minor brings telling use of vibrato as Isserlis circles around Egarr, his playing at once idiomatic and soulful. An extra cellist reinforces the bass line in the Handel and Scarlatti, in which the composers give the harpsichordist only a framework; Egarr’s imaginative realisations ensure that even when Scarlatti is at his most repetitive, he is never dull.
Resplendent in his powdered wig and 18th century garb, Maestro Handel (aka, Director of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, Ivars Taurins) leads Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, a stellar cast of soloists - soprano, Suzie LeBlanc, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Rufus Muller, and baritone Locky Chung - and a mass audience choir made up of more than 1000 Tafelmusik fans as they perform Handel's baroque masterpiece. A Toronto tradition beloved by thousands, Tafelmusik's annual Sing-Along Messiah has become a revered family ritual for many over the past 25 years.
Released in 1995, this Harmonia Mundi CD of five of Handel's Concerti grossi, Op. 6, is an absolute bargain and highly recommended to any lover of great music. Considering William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are among the most brilliant interpreters of Handel, that these gorgeous works afforded them an ideal platform for their talents, and that Harmonia Mundi provided the best possible engineering to capture their glorious sound, this album is an embarrassment of riches not to be missed.