Handel's Six French Horn Songs in Seven Parts? After hearing this recording, I'll wager you'll lament the loss of that manuscript. For Ensemble Marsyas, the archives of the Edinburgh Musical Society (1728-1797) that notes this lost repertoire certainly provide a fruitful and fascinating lens into 18th-century Scottish taste. Under the incisive direction of Peter Whelan, the group is on ebullient form as it explores the vogue for the French horn in Scotland, through works by Handel and Edinburgh-based Italian Francesco Barsanti.
Handel's Water Music features a good deal here. His Concerto for two french horns in F is an adaptation of the Allegro—Alla Hornpipe, brilliantly and effortlessly delivered by Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters. The Water Music also indirectly steers the vim and vigour of the horn and timpani concertino in Barsanti's five Op 3 Italian-style concerti grossi. The first concertos to be published in Scotland by the well-travelled and unjustly neglected Barsanti, they are the mainstay of the programme. Ensemble Marsyas afford all due splendour to ravishing largos, martial pomp to rousing allegros, and high-spirited dance steps to menuets as Barsanti emerges as a worthy rival to Handel's festive verve. But his varied output is also beautifully captured in four Old Scots Tunes: Colin Scobie's fiddle perfectly fusing the soul and lilt of these traditional melodies with an 18th-century aesthetic. In a fleeting snapshot of the opera house beloved of both composers, mezzo-soprano Emilie Renard's fiery performance of Handel's aria 'Sta nell'Ircana' from Alcina completes an assured disc of horn-infused Baroque finery.