Like many regular listeners to BBC Radio 3, I’ve followed the
progress of Sharon Bezaly with interest. One of the BBC’s Young
Artists, she has demonstrated great ability and versatility in
her wide-ranging broadcasts and recordings, and this new CD is
no exception. With the support of two members of London Baroque
and BIS on the label to guarantee the recording quality, this
new CD is virtually self-recommending, unless you cannot abide
the sound of the flute – in which case you won’t be reading this
There are several highly recommended versions of
the Handel flute sonatas, but Bezaly can hold her head high even
in such exalted company as the ASMF Chamber Ensemble on modern
instruments in the complete wind sonatas (Philips Duo 4465632)
or Linda Besnosiuk, etc. (CDA67278) or Marion Verbruggen (recorder
and flute) et al on period instruments (HMU90 7151). Her
tempi here are well judged: very similar to – if anything, slightly
faster than – those of Verbruggen and those of Il Vero Modo on
the Thorofon recording to which I refer below.
Prospective purchasers are most likely to be attracted
by the four Bach sonatas. They won’t be disappointed, except
perhaps by the fact that BIS haven’t included all six sonatas;
though I realise that those who do so mostly run to two CDs,
as in the case of Stephen Preston’s CRD recording (CRD3314/5),
they should have been able to accommodate all six comfortably,
even leaving enough space for the short Telemann work as filler.
Bezaly’s tempi are consistently faster – sometimes much faster
– than Preston’s, but the playing never
sounds remotely breakneck. Preston undercuts Bezaly just once in the opening movement
of BWV1032 (tr.12), by just 9 seconds.
The final allegro of BWV1031 (tr.21) is
one movement where, on paper, Bezaly’s 4:35 against Preston’s 5:06 seems highly discrepant, yet even here there is
no hint of undue haste. The opening and closing movements of
BWV1034 (tr.8 and tr.11) offer another extreme contrast of tempo:
2:38 and 4:26 against Preston’s 3:08 and 5:11, yet here, too, Bezaly and her supporters seem
to have it just about right.
BWV1034/i is marked adagio, ma non tanto,
and if the BIS performers concentrate on the forward movement
more than Preston, they are surely right
to stress the ma non tanto element of the indication.
Preston does sound a little sluggish
and even doleful by comparison – try the opening 60 seconds of
his version here.
The tempo in BWV1034/iv on this new recording sounds equally right;
again, Preston sounds a little too slow when heard immediately
afterwards: try the sample on the same web page.
Those who wish to have Bezaly’s excellent accounts
of the four sonatas here, yet also have a collection of all
six, might wish to download Preston’s recordings from theclassicalshop.net
– by buying each CD for the absurdly low price of £4.80, £9.60
for the whole set, including the Partita, BWV1013, or by complementing
the four sonatas on Bis with just the three tracks of BWV1030
for £2 and/or the four tracks of BWV1033 for just £1.60. It’s
not one of their 320k or lossless recordings, but most listeners
will find the 192k sound perfectly acceptable.
Otherwise, those requiring all six sonatas will
find themselves catered for by William Bennett, George Malcolm
and Michael Evans on super-budget ASV Resonance CDRSN3008.
The Archiv Galleria versions of BWV1020, 1030-2 and 1013, with
Aurèle Nicolet and Karl Richter, available as a mid-price import
on 427 113-2 are also most enjoyable, though Richter’s accompaniment
now sounds a little four-square.
The short Telemann sonata which ends the recording
also receives an excellent performance. If anything, Telemann
was even more adept at writing for the flute or recorder than
Bach or Handel – as witness the well-known Suite in a minor,
TWV55:a2 – and this sonata is a good example of his style.
With excellent recording and a very informative
booklet of notes, this new CD is highly recommendable. It’s
almost impossible to imagine anything better.
Criticisms? Well, the title is a bit gash and,
whereas BIS correctly give Handel’s name in the booklet as George
Frideric Handel, the form of his name which he adopted when
he settled in London, the front cover and rear insert list him
as Georg Friedrich Händel. It’s a trifling, pedantic complaint,
but it does demonstrate that my critical faculties are still
in order – I’m not recommending this CD for any other reason
than its overall excellence.
If you enjoy the one Handel work included here,
you could also try the Thorofon CD of six sonatas for recorder
and harpsichord which I recommended in May 2008 (CTH2540 – see
Bezaly plays the version which Walsh published as the flute
sonata Op.1/9 (HWV367b), a work which also exists as HWV367a
for recorder, in which form it is played on the Thorofon CD.
And for an inexpensive and very enjoyable account of Handel’s
trio sonatas for oboe and violin, look no further than Convivium
on Hyperion Helios CDH55280 – see review.
I hardly know where to begin with recommendations
for Telemann. As good a place as any to look would be the very
varied collection of Domestic Music performed by Collegium 90/Steven
Standage on Chandos CHAN0525: a trio sonata for violins and
continuo; a set of exercises for voice and continuo; a suite
for flute, violin and continuo; a flute quartet and other pieces,
all excellently performed – one of a series of excellent Telemann
recordings made by these performers.
For those wishing to start a Telemann collection
on a low budget, the Naxos Best of Telemann,
including the Suite in a minor, HWV55:a2, would be a good place
to begin (8.556689). Have a look, too, at my recent review
of Telemann Wind Concertos Vol.2 on CPO 7772672, in which I refer
to a number of other recommendable recordings.
This new recording reminds us of the almost unfailingly
high quality of BIS recordings and the range of repertoire which
they encompass – as wide as that of Sharon Bezaly herself. I
may not be too enamoured of some of the Scandinavian avant-garde
whom the label has championed, but I am deeply grateful for the
range of excellent recordings of music which I love which has
appeared on BIS, from the recordings of Bach orchestral music
and cantatas with the Bach Collegium of Japan under Masaaki Suzuki,
to the music of Sibelius.