The publisher John Walsh
issued Handel’s Op. 1, a set of sonatas for various instruments,
in the 1730s. This was an attempt to cash in on Handel’s
popularity by giving the public some Handel that they could
play at home; mind you some of the sonatas in the set might
not even be by Handel. Walsh had previously produced pirate
editions of Handel’s music and Handel had nothing to do
with the production of Op. 1. But subsequently he seems
to have decided to join forces with the publisher and Walsh’s
subsequent productions of Handel’s works benefited from
the composer’s involvement.
The recorder sonatas were probably composed between
1724 and 1726 and our sources range from incomplete first
copies and first drafts, copies by unidentified copyists
as well as Walsh’s printed editions based on manuscripts
of uncertain provenance. The G minor, F major, A minor
and C major sonatas exist in Handel’s own fair copies.
Walsh printed five of the sonatas, but transposed the D
minor to B minor (for transverse flute). The B flat major
sonata only exists in manuscript.
The sonatas all re-use material from elsewhere in Handel’s
oeuvre, as was common in the period. He seems to have used
the sonatas as something of a proving ground and a number
of movements crop up in other forms in later, larger-scale
This new disc from Alan Davis and David Ponsford gives
us all six of Handel’s sonatas plus the Harpsichord Suite
No. 7 as a delightful filler. Davis plays a modern copy
of a recorder by the English maker Stanesby from the 1720s.
English makers, like the French, made examples that emphasised
the instrument’s expressive lower notes. Whereas German
makers went for a strong high register, something that
Bach and Telemann were able to take advantage of.
The sonatas have been well represented on disc. Philip
Pickett and L’Ecole d’Orphée recorded them as part of a
set devoted to the complete Handel chamber music (see review).
Since then Marion Verbruggen (accompanied by Ton Koopman),
Laurin (accompanied by Hidemi and Masaaki Suzuki). Pamela
Thorby (accompanied by Richard Egarr) and Dorothee Oberlinger
have all recorded the sonatas. Attitudes vary, so that
Philip Pickett adds a violoncello to the harpsichord continuo,
Dorothee Oberlinger adds a whole range of instruments,
matching the line-up to Handel’s trio sonatas. Davis and
Ponsford follow Verbruggen and Koopman, Thorby and Egarr,
and give us the sonatas in their purest form, just recorder
and harpsichord. This was probably Handel’s intention as
on his fair copies he titles the works Sonata a Flauto
e Cembalo rather than using basso continuo; thus
implying a single harpsichord rather than the usual instrumental
grouping. There is much to be said for this, but I must
confess that I rather enjoy the variety that Philip Pickett’s
harpsichord and cello accompaniment brings to the pieces.
Davis and Ponsford offer fine musicality but after listening
to all the sonatas I began to find Davis’s tone a little
on the melancholic, droopy side. I enjoyed returning to
Pickett’s performances, with his brighter tone and greater
joie de vivre.
Ponsford rounds off the disc with an enjoyable performance
of Handel’s Suite no. 7. This is one of the grandest of
his keyboard suites, one which is concluded by a lovely
This is a very enjoyable disc, but personally I will
always return to Philip Pickett for this repertoire. Quite
whom you choose might depend on couplings. Pickett’s performances
are embedded in a six-disc set, which is issued at super-budget
price by Brilliant, whereas this is a single disc with
the harpsichord suite as filler. Other performers add other
Handel harpsichord suites or trio sonatas. It all depends
on your personal preferences.