Australia is blessed with more than its fair share of top shelf early music bands able to stand their own against stiff international competition. One of the newer kids on the block is Tasmania’s Van Diemens Band, which can draw on talent from both home and away, and does so with its superb debut recording for the Swedish BIS label featuring Handel’s six Op. 3 Concerti Grossi under the direction of French organist Martin Gester.
Music publisher John Walsh was a bit of an 18th-century Cockney “wide boy”. He famously issued a pirated version of Corelli’s Concerti Grossi, and when royal protection of Handel’s output was set to expire in 1720 Walsh cashed in by assembling a mix-match of these concerti.
“Whether or not the composer played any part in the collation and publication… the fact remains that Op. 3 contains some of Handel’s best loved music,” writes Brian Clark in the liner notes.
Walsh didn’t get away with everything, however – Francesco Geminiani sued him and won the right to inspect the pre-print proofs of his works. But as Clark says, Op. 3’s lasting popularity shows that Walsh’s “nose for success was surely the finest in 18th-century England”.
The playing is top-notch throughout – listen to the twin oboes of Jasu Moisio and Ingo Muller in the opener No 2, as well as Gester’s organ solo in No 6, all driven tightly by artistic director Julia Fredersdorff and her mentor Lucinda Moon as principal second violin.
This recording is as good as it gets.
Work: Concerti Grossi Op. 3
Performers: Van Diemen’s Band, Martin Gester
Label: BIS BIS2079