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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Six Sonatas for recorder and harpsichord
Sonata in F, Op.1/11 (HWV369) (1725/6, pub.1732)
Sonata in g minor, Op.1/2 (HWV360) (1725/6, pub.1732)
Sonata in B-flat, HWV377 (‘Fitzwilliam’), interpolating Air in the Overture of Scipio and Adagio in his 4th Organ Concerto (c.1724/5)
Sonata in d minor/b minor, HWV367a* (1725/6, pub.1732 as Flute Sonata. Op/1/9)
Sonata in a minor, Op.1/4 (HWV362) (1725/6, pub.1732)
Sonata in C, Op.1/7 (HWV365) (1725/6, pub.1732)
Il Vero Modo (Sven Schwannberger, treble recorder and voice-flute*; Thomas Leininger, harpsichord)
rec. August, 2007, Kreuzbergkirche, Burglengenfels, Germany. DDD
THOROFON CTH2540 [64:59]
Experience Classicsonline

If you followed my recent advice and bought the Hyperion version of Handel’s Trio Sonatas (CDH55280 – see review) and are now looking for some further attractive examples of his chamber music, you might do well to consider this new recording. Don’t be put off by the cover, which does not even tell the purchaser what music the disc contains – just a picture of the two performers.
Four of the sonatas published by Walsh as Handel’s Op.1 have long been the staple of recorder players, together with HWV377 and HWV367a, the latter being the original of the Flute Sonata, Op.1/9 (HWV367b).
HWV377 is the first of the ‘Fitzwilliam’ Sonatas, edited in 1948 by Thurston Dart from autograph manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The information given on this CD and on the website is somewhat misleading in implying that more music is performed here than is usual; the music from Scipione in the first movement and from the Organ Concerto in the second movement is an integral part of the sonata as it is normally performed. It might just as well have been advertised as containing music from the Violin Sonata, Op.1/3 (HWV361) in the third movement.
Where this recording does add to the six sonatas as they are usually performed is in providing a prelude to each sonata, a practice which was common long before Handel’s time and for which the notes adduce contemporary examples. Some of these preludes are borrowed from Handel himself – after all, he was the archetypal borrower of his own and others’ music – and others are modelled on Handelian exemplars.
Strong praise for the quality of the notes, which present the raison d’être behind these performances and such information as the source of the ornamentation in the Sonata in F and the pitch and provenance of the instruments employed. Schwannberger uses treble recorders after Peter Bresson at a’=405Hz and after Thomas Stanesby at a’=400Hz. The voice flute, after Peter Bresson, is at a’=405Hz. All these instruments were made by Guido Klemisch, whilst the harpsichord was made by Matthias Kramer after a Christian Zell instrument of 1728.
The English translation of these notes is comprehensible and readable, if a little over-literal and Germanic-sounding in places.
Black marks, however, for the lack of HWV numbers, which I have had to deduce, and for other missing important information – no indication even of the total playing-time, for example. Both of these would have been more valuable than knowing the type of microphone employed. I am sure, too, that I am not alone in finding the lack of appropriate capital letters throughout the booklet an annoying fetish.
The booklet refers to the “high critical praise” which Il Vero Modo’s two recordings have received, without mentioning that one of these, a CD of music by Dario Castello, etc. (‘Arcadia’, CTH2508, is no longer available in the UK). Their CD with tenor Giovanni Cantarini, however, entitled Love Letters, is presumably still available, since it was favourably reviewed here on Musicweb as recently as last autumn (CTH2538, see review).
The notes pay tribute to earlier recordings by Dolmetsch, Munrow and Brüggen – none of them, I believe, currently available – claiming for the new versions an understanding of period practice in the context of a performance which makes sense to and is attractive for a modern audience. The exhaustive notes about the proper interpretation of a German composer working in London and writing in the Italian style certainly demonstrate a thorough academic grasp of the subject, though they are perhaps a little too dismissive of David Lasocki’s refutation of the ornamentation associated with the Smith barrel-organ version of the sonatas. Lasocki has long argued, most recently in the specialist magazine ARTA (6/2000) that while sensitive ornamentation can make baroque music more palatable – he cites the performances by Brüggen – the practice must not be overdone. Non-specialists (like myself) will find Lasocki’s chapter in The Cambridge Companion to the Recorder, ed. J M Thomson (Cambridge: CUP, 1995) or The Recorder: A Research and Information Guide, ed R Griscom and D Lasocki (New York and London: Routledge, 2003) the most easily obtained approach to his writings.
As for the second claim, that these performances present the music in a form which can be enjoyed by the modern listener, I can only say that my first audition of the CD without reference to the notes and their academic arguments was a delight from first to last, without a single intrusive moment when I wanted to put critical pen to paper. As so often, period performance enhances one’s enjoyment of the music. Most listeners will, in any case, find the academic details over their heads or irrelevant to their enjoyment; the recording can be confidently recommended to them, especially as the use of two different recorders and a voice-flute introduces a degree of variety to the playing.
I was surprised to discover how many recommendable versions of these sonatas there are. Those by Marion Verbruggen, Jaap ter Linden and Ton Koopman (Harmonia Mundi HMU90 7151) and Pamela Thorby and Richard Egarr (Linn CD/SACD CKD223) have been strongly recommended in various quarters. The Linn recording is particularly generous in that it includes the Keyboard Suite in E, HWV430 – a more considerable bonus than the preludes on this new recording. The recording on Guild GMCD7301 also offers as filler a Keyboard Suite, a “very enjoyable disc” (see Musicweb review).
Michala Petri and Keith Jarrett offer only the six sonatas and their recording time is even shorter than the present recording, but my Musicweb colleague dubbed their recording “a rare treat” (BMG/RCA 82876 65835 2; see review).
The Brook Street Band recycled these sonatas for cello and harpsichord – “a nice little set which will grow on you as you enter into the spirit of it” (Avie AV2118 – see review).
The 6-CD set of Handel’s Chamber Music, including these six sonatas, so strongly recommended on Musicweb has now reverted from Brilliant Classics to its original manufacturers – no longer quite such a bargain, but still very good value at around £27 in the UK (L’École d’Orphée, CRD5002 – see review). The Recorder Sonatas from this set are available separately on CRD3378 at mid price.
Unless you particularly prefer one of these alternatives, however, I see no reason not to go for the present CD. The recording is bright and close but not too close, especially if played at slightly less than normal volume.
Brian Wilson


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