A fount of inexhaustible creativity, Handel more than any of his contemporaries embodies the spirit of his century. He was a prolific composer who left an indelible mark on his contemporaries’ memory, and over the centuries became synonymous with the musical genres on which he brought his genius to bear. By the time he published his eight “Great Suites”, he had already travelled a good deal and learned from every country in which he had stayed; as a result he was capable of writing a suite in which an adagio of Italian inspiration suggests the colours of dawn over the Thames, or in which a courante of French character is constructed with the solidity of a German cathedral. Handel sang and made the harpsichord sing: whether in the moving airs and ornamented adagios in the style of Corelli, in the French-style dances, in the severe German fugues, or in the Purcellian “lessons” in which he conjures an ineffably English vividness. The logical extension of this singular talent was that Handel’s contemporaries began to produce solo harpsichord transcriptions from his operas. So his close and faithful friend and pupil William Babell wrote transcriptions of the master’s most celebrated arias, with success. Himself a virtuoso, Babell succeeded in transforming Handel’s extended vocal lines into tremblings of the fingers without losing the music’s fundamentally lyrical character, whether in the slowest and most expressive arias or in the wildest and most virtuosic ones.
Recording: Church of Saint-Remi in Franc-Waret, Belgium, 14-15 September 2015