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
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
rec. August, 2007, Kreuzbergkirche, Burglengenfels, Germany.
DDD THOROFON CTH2540 [64:59]
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
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.
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