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George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Sweet Stillness
Nine German Arias, HWV202-210 (1724-27)
Violin Sonata in G minor, HWV364a (1724-26)
Violin Sonata in F major, HWV370 (pub c 1733)
Mary Bevan (soprano)
Davina Clarke (violin)
The Davina Clarke Ensemble
rec. 2002, VOCES8 Centre, London
German texts and English translations included
VOCES8 VCM148 [67]

Handel set so little of his native language that it makes the Brockes-Passion and the nine German Arias especially valuable examples of his stylistic and, clearly, linguistic affiliations. Handel and Barthold Heinrich Brockes had probably first met around 1702 in Halle. In 1716 Handel set the Passion oratorio, with Brockes text, and eight years later – as Leo Duarte’s helpful introduction outlines - obtained the first volume of Brockes’ Irdisches Vergnügen from which he selected the chosen nine texts.

Though the arias were never published during Handel’s lifetime, this recording has the nine in the order Brockes intended. There are interludes in which two violin sonatas are performed. It’s known that the Sonata in G minor, HWV364a was published at the time Handel was working on the Arias. The second is the more problematic, from the point of authenticity, Sonata in F minor, HWV370.

Mary Bevan is the accomplished and experienced Handelian who takes on the Arias with the extensive obbligato violin part – and the sonatas – played by Davina Clarke. The accompanying group consists of Tom Foster (harpsichord and organ), Alexander Rolton (cello) and Sergio Bucheli (theorbo) and it’s been expertly balanced. Each of the arias is sharply but subtly characterised and rhythmically sprung. Bevan sings with finesse and command of the divisions, her tone focused and always under control. Clarke, meanwhile, who has performed with the Academy of Ancient Music, is well versed in historically informed period practice.

These aren’t showy arias, rather they explore rather Italianate traits and make a virtue of the entwining nature of voice and violin buttressed by shifting accompanying support. For example, there is a litheness to Meine Seele hört in Sehen, a warm corporate ensemble too which is indivisible from a youthful vitality. Süsse Blumen Ambraflocken is possibly the most inherently operatic setting, or at least the setting in which Handel finds it hardest to suppress his theatricality and it shows the range and breadth of the songs. Varied use of harpsichord and organ – Foster plays the latter in Künft’ger Zeiten aitler Kummer to good effect – is matched by the elegant incision shown in In den angenehmen Büschen where the ethos is one of refinement and precision.

The two sonatas are finely done, the G minor being lightly textured and buoyant, with Tom Foster accompanying well, though for my tastes the end of the second movement Allegro is overdone. The F major is again attractive, well weighted, and the continuo forces are lively – very lively, in fact.

The texts are contained in the booklet, one to a page, the German printed clearly but the English translations in a kind of imitation ‘written’ font, which I found occasionally cumbersome to read. Attractive idea, slightly problematic execution.

This is an attractive disc. The German Arias aren’t so often recorded that one should pass by a performance as authoritative and accomplished as this one.

Jonathan Woolf

Performers
Tom Foster (harpsichord and organ), Alexander Rolton (cello), Sergio Bucheli (theorbo)

Published: October 13, 2022



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