Music tip: "The Eight Great Suites by G.F. Handel"

Lisa Smirnova

ECM New Series

To Americans, Handel is beloved for a single work: "The Messiah." We hear his other oratorios at times, his organ music gets played in churches, and choirs sing his anthems. But this peer of Bach also wrote more than 40 operas (some of the most beautiful ever) and these eight suites for keyboard. What sets these apart from Bach's keyboard partitas and suites is the utter lyricism and songlike underpinnings of Handel's writing. This two-disc set of all eight by Lisa Smirnova captures the expressive breadth of these mainly dance-based charmers. Though Smirnova can't match the elegance of Murray Perahia's 1997 recording of three of the suites, she freely explores the improvisational nature of this baroque idiom and invests each with a sense of freshness. Just listen to the best-known movement of these, the "Harmonius Blacksmith" variations of Suite No. 5, and feel the spontaneity. As always from ECM, the set is beautifully recorded and packaged with a thoughtful booklet.


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