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GRAMOPHONE ( 06/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Now recording for Pentatone after 25 years with Harmonia Mundi, the AAM Berlin mark the occasion with the first six of Handel’s ‘Twelve Grand Concertos’, his second set, published in 1740. Nos 7-12 are due to follow, with the six Op 3s after that. It seems like a long time to have got round to such core Baroque orchestral repertoire, but perhaps it has been missing from their discography because of the presence on Harmonia Mundi of the ‘other’ AAM, the English one, who made a point of recording all of Handel’s opus numbers.

A welcome sight, then, and needless to say the playing is good, delivering exciting quick movements and some full-toned slower ones (the openings of Nos 1 and 2 are both suavely drawn out), even if ensemble is not always as sharp as it might be. Handel’s optional parts for oboes and bassoon are used for Nos 1, 2, 5 and 6, but whereas in the English Concert’s recording (Archiv, 11/82) they add extra definition to an already clean-lined texture, here they run the danger of loading it down and murking it, all the more noticeably so when compared with the sprightlier, strings-only Nos 3 and 4. The two solo violins play with keen silvery sound, however.

As far as interpretation goes, it is essentially conventional. First violin Bernhard Forck is named as concertmaster, but this feels like a typically collaborative AAMB effort. The nicest surprise is the brisk approach to the Musette in No 6, which can be quite a wallow in some hands. Some listeners may prefer it that way, as well as a greater sense of contrast for the more animated middle section, but it is really rather charming all the same. Dynamic contrasts are well used elsewhere, including some jokily swapped-round ones in the repeats of the finale of No 6. All this serves the music handsomely enough, but if sparky personality is what you want (and you don’t crave the wind parts), Andrew Manze and the other AAM from 1998 may be more your thing.

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