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 Recording of the Week  George Frederic Handel

2009 - April 14th, to be precise - is the 250th anniversary of Handel's death. As regular readers of this column will probably be aware, I'm a big Handel fan, so the opportunity to write a few paragraphs and promote this wonderful composer is something I have been looking forward to for some time.

George Frederic Handel
George Frederic Handel

Handel was born in Germany in 1685 and, after training in Italy, he settled in England in 1712 aged 27. He had already firmly established his reputation with - amongst other things - his operas Agrippina and Rodrigo, his oratorios La Resurrezione and Il Trionfo del Tempo, numerous cantatas, and his famous Dixit Dominus all dating from his Italian years.

However it is from his time in England that his most popular works all date. His choral works, including of course the Messiah have remained a core part of choral society repertoire ever since, and his coronation anthem Zadok the Priest has been played at every British coronation ceremony since that of King George II (for whom it was written) in 1727. Amongst his instrumental repertoire his Concerti Grossi (Op. 3 and Op. 6) and his Organ Concertos are superbly crafted, and his two ‘outdoor’ works - the Water Music (first performed at a water party on the Thames in 1717) and the Music for the Royal Fireworks (first performed in front of 12,000 people in Green Park in 1749) – remain hugely popular.

In my view, his finest works are undoubtedly his operas and oratorios. While the oratorios (particularly the English ones like Saul, Solomon and of course Messiah) have remained in the repertoire thanks mainly to enormous choruses of amateur singers, the operas have only really been rediscovered in the last 50 years, since when a general revival of interest in baroque music, as well as the prevalence of countertenors (who can more accurately replicate the castrato roles for whom Handel wrote than female singers) has resulted in numerous Handel operas now entering the mainstream opera repertoire. Handel wrote 42 operas, and some of them are still being recorded for the first time.

As you would expect there has been something of a plethora of new Handel recordings and re-issues recently, so we’ve put some of the more interesting ones, along with many of the great Handel recordings already in the catalogue into a Handel special offer where we are offering up to 50% off the normal price. There is much to enjoy in here for both Handel enthusiasts and relative newcomers.

Browse Handel Special Offer: