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Handel: Winged Hands - The Eight Great Suites & Overtures

Handel: Winged Hands - The Eight Great Suites & Overtures

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After the album Bach, Little Books, harpsichordist Francesco Corti continues his collaboration with Arcana with a 2-album recording entirely dedicated to George Frideric Handel. At the center of the project are the eight “Great” suites. These masterpieces were the composer’s first published set, and are a clear testimony to his virtuosity at the keyboard. Their characteristically diversified styles reflect not only the mélange of national traditions assimilated by the young composer, but also his phenomenal improvisatory talent. Moreover, the attraction of these pieces lies in their melodic and rhythmic affinity to the world of singing and orchestral writing, Händel’s strongest interests. Arrangements of Handel’s operatic overtures and arias started circulating early in his career in England, and in his later years he was known to perform his overtures on the keyboard himself. Corti designs a program showcasing the composer’s brilliant treatment of the instrument, choosing to complement the “Great” Suites with a selection of transcriptions from Händel’s own hand and from his close musical circle.


It’s possible that Francesco Corti’s distinction as a conductor and a collaborative keyboard artist overshadows his considerable gifts as a harpsichord soloist. For example, whoever hears about his 2010 Bach Partitas released by Berlin Classics, a terrific “sleeper” edition if there ever was one? All this is to say that collectors looking for a reference-worthy harpsichord version of Handel’s eight “great” Suites should consider Corti. Although some listeners may take issue with the slightly distant and diffuse engineering, I find the sound quality attractively rounded, resonant, and warm, as if you’re hearing Corti’s 1738 Christian Vater model instrument in an intimate concert venue.

Certainly the sonics enhance Corti’s wonderfully freewheeling way with Suite No. 1’s improvisatory Prelude and excitingly boisterous Gigue. Suite No. 2’s opening Adagio and Suite No. 3’s concluding Air amount to a masterclass in how to organically integrate ornaments. Suite No. 4’s fugal opening Allegro attains bracing clarity due to Corti’s subtle agogic phrasings, while the ubiquitous Suite No. 5 “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations are more about cumulative build than facile virtuosity.

Despite Corti’s headlong pace for Suite No. 6’s Gigue finale, the rapid phrases have plenty of breathing room. And Suite No. 7 ‘s familiar Passacaille manages to convey both pomp and vulnerability at the same time.

Equally inspired performances of overture transcriptions flesh out this release. I especially love the imaginative registration shifts in Teseo’s Allegro section, plus Corti’s varied approaches to arpeggiating chords in Il pastor fido’s adagio opening section. For all of the thought and scholarship informing Corti’s interpretations, they consistently convey vitality, spontaneity, and forward sweep, without the least hint of self-awareness or pedanticism. Without a doubt, the title “Winged Hands” befits this fabulous release.

-- (Jed Distler)

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Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 11, 2022

  • UPC: 3760195734995

  • Catalog Number: A499

  • Label: Arcana

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Period: Baroque

  • Composer: George Frideric Handel

  • Performer: Francesco Corti