Sunday, December 19, 2010

Handel Organ Concertos

This week I present several recordings of Handel organ concertos by two British organists that, decidedly, represent a bygone style of playing this music!  Featured first is George Dorrington Cunningham (1878-1948), who went by the rather unfortunate initials "G. D." (I wonder if they had the same connotations in those days?), and who was appointed Birmingham City Organist in 1924.  E. Power Biggs was one of his students.  His recordings of two Handel concerti, with George Weldon and the City of Birmingham Orchestra, were made late in his life, and exhibit a considerably beefier style of Handel playing than we are accustomed to today, with a big organ sound and a full symphonic-sized string orchestra accompaniment:

Handel: Organ Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat, Op. 4, No. 2 and
Handel: Organ Concerto No. 4 in F, Op. 4, No. 4
G. D. Cunningham (organ) and the
City of Birmingham Orchestra conducted by George Weldon
Recorded June 4, 1945
English Columbia DX 1358 through 1360, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 59.19 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.99 MB)

If the Cunningham performances seem oversized, they're positively sedate compared to what follows.  Cunningham's student, and successor as Birmingham City Organist, was George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987), who here turns in a performance of Handel's Organ Concerto in B-Flat, Op. 7, No. 3, as arranged and orchestrated by Sir Henry J. Wood.  Thalben-Ball's playing is flamboyant, to say the least, and the Wood orchestration, for full symphony orchestra with brass and percussion, is certainly anachronistic but it's great fun!  Handel's original ordering of the movements is also altered, and this perfomance interpolates not only the Minuet from "Berenice" but also a big cadenza by Thalben-Ball that takes up most of the last side.

Handel: Organ Concerto No. 9 in B-Flat, Op. 7, No. 3 (arr. Henry J. Wood) and
Arne: Organ Concerto No. 6 in B-Flat - Allegro moderato
George Thalben-Ball (organ) and the
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Walter Susskind
Recorded June 4, Sept. 23, and Oct. 11, 1948
HMV C 3814 through 3816, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 59.9 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.31 MB)

Sir Henry Wood, of course, was a great conductor who left a fair number of recordings himself (though his recorded legacy hardly does him justice), and among these were several featuring Baroque music.  One of the very first uploads I ever offered, way back in the spring of 2007, was one of him conducting two Bach Brandenburg Concertos, and this is still available for those who may have missed it the first time:

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G and
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-Flat
Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry J. Wood
Recorded June 16, 1932 (#3) and June 12, 1930 (#6)
Columbia 68084-D, 67842-D, and 67843-D, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 53.32 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 20.4 MB)


  1. Thank you! These are very important recordings. They've been on CD but long unavailable and in bad restorations. If you happen to have some Columbia 78s of the great Dutch player Anthon van der Horst at Central Methodist Church (Handel, Widor, Sweelinck, Pachelbel), I would love to hear these rarities. I've mentioned them on other blogs, just in case somebody has one or more.

  2. Thank you too - I agree, your transfers are SO good, the organ colours come across really well! A real pleasure to listen to. All the best, Nick

  3. Thank you for the orchestrations of Sir Henry J. Wood. Sir Henry Wood FTW!!