Schubert sonatas

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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Seven Trio Sonatas Op.5
Sonata No.1 in A major HWV396 [8.20]
Sonata No.2 in D major HWV397 [8.06]
Sonata No.3 in E minor HWV398 [11.40]
Sonata No.4 in G major HWV399 [13.38]
Sonata No.5 in G minor HWV400 [11.37]
Sonata No.6 in F major HWV401 [15.03]
Sonata No.7 in B flat major HWV402 [9.21]
London Handel Players
Recorded at St Maryís Church, Walthamstow, January 2005
SOMM CD044 [78.38]


As I noted in my review of The Brook Street Bandís recording of these trio sonatas both traversals arrived on my desk within the same week. The main difference between them is that the London Handel Players employ an oboe for three of the sonatas (Nos.1, 3 and 6) and a viola whereas the BSB keep to two violins, cello and harpsichord/chamber organ throughout. The Op.5 set is generally derived from pre-existing music taken from Concerti Grossi, Anthems, oratorio and opera though there is certainly some newly composed music. Originally written for two violins or German flutes the Somm team has decided on variety and so Rachel Brown takes the honours as flautist in those three sonatas, which she does with conspicuous artistry and tonal imagination.

These are well-shaped and thoroughly elegant performances, more recital hall in character than The Brook Street Bandís more al fresco and dynamic incursions. Dynamics are equable but subtle, phrases are gently cantilevered; and corporate tonal nuances are attended to. They promote optimum clarity and manage to retain considerable control over tempo relations, so that very little seems amiss. Set against the BSB however and the London Handel Players can seem rather sedate; the formerís outsize drama can make the lucid but constrained elegance of the LHP seem reserved or non-committal, when itís not actually the case.

Certainly the drone effects of the Musette of No.2 are far more sharply, indeed rudely etched in the case of The Brook Street Bandís performance. Overall the LHP steer a far more reserved and patrician route through these trio sonatas; their colour (March of No.2) and elegance are palpable however and they come within bowing distance of The BSBís tempo. The latterís articulation and accents are that much deeper however and their tempos seem much faster through the sheer dynamism of their playing. That said I prefer the more sensible final cadences of the second movement of No.4 in the LHPís hands; the BSB really go to town on it.

I also prefer the Somm teamís control of the melancholy rhetoric embedded in No.5 where they really do mine the operatic intensities on show, though indisputably they do sound rather earnest in the same sonataís A tempo giusto fourth movement, especially in contrast with the BSBí very personal vein of extrovert immediacy.

In the end choice will depend on the textual decisions made, whether to embrace the flute-led trio sonatas of the Somm or to stick to the unvarying instrumentation of the Avie. And whether one prefers the smooth and rather elegant precision of the LHP to the cut and thrust of the BSB. The version that makes these works live more dangerously is the Avie and that recording is rich in personality and intimate drama. But if you prefer a more patrician and easy going geniality the London Handel Players, recorded well in a Walthamstow church, will give pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf

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