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Handel: The Complete Chamber Music

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Although best known for his operas and oratorios along with a couple of occasional orchestral works called Water Music and Fireworks Music, Handel did from time to time turn his compositional attention to the chamber music forms of the late Baroque. This six-disc set on Brilliant released in 2006 collects all Handel's works in the genre in a single, inexpensive package featuring superb performances in 1991 by the English period instrument group L'Ecole d'Orphée. In the flute sonatas, soloist Stephen Preston plays with the kind of warm tone and lyrical phrasing that make Handel's music sound fresh and alive. In the recorder sonatas, Philip Pickett plays with the kind of deep feeling and honest sensitivity that make Handel's music sound even better than it is. And in the violin sonatas and trio sonatas, John Holloway plays with the kind of irresistible energy and unabashed virtuosity that make Handel's music seem fully the equal of their best contemporary competition. With the elegant Micaela Comberti on second violin, the dulcet David Reichenberg on oboe, and the subtle Susan Sheppard on cello as well as either the equally talented John Toll, Robert Woolley, or Lucy Carolan on harpsichord, L'Ecole d'Orphée makes the case for the excellence of Handel's chamber music -- a case only the hard-hearted or hard-headed could dispute. Brilliant's un-remastered digital sound is crisp and clean, but a tad too distant.

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