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George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Recorder Sonata in C Major; Recorder Sonata in A minor; Recorder Sonata in G minor; Recorder Sonata in B flat major; Recorder Sonata in F major; Recorder Sonata in D minor (1724-26/1730)
Harpsichord Suite No. 7 in G minor (1720)
Alan Davis (recorder)
David Ponsford (harpsichord)
rec. St. Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, 30-31 May 2000
GUILD GMCD7301 [78.51]

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 works.
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), Dan 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 French Passacaille.
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.
Robert Hugill


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