George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Sonata in A major, HWV 372 [7:30]
Sonata in g minor, HWV 364a [6:07]
Sonata in D major, HWV 371 [12:25]
Sonata in A major, HWV 361 [7:35]
Sonata in d minor, HWV 359a [7:26]
Sonata in G major, HWV 359 [5:17]
Sonata in F major, HWV 370 [12:35]
Hiro Kurosaki (violin)
William Christie (harpsichord, organ)
rec. Chapelle de Jésus enfant (Paroisse Sainte Clotilde), Paris, 4-6 September, 2002

Handel’s instrumental music spans the whole of his career from early works composed in Italy to those that were completed in London in the 1750s toward the end of his life. This recital contains works that cover this entire time-line. Given the difficulty of authenticating Handel’s actual intentions it also contains works that may or may not be spurious. The artists leave some of the detective work to the listener, stating that all of the music presented here is of high merit, and that a little speculation on the part of the audience might be entertaining.

The fancy G major work that opens the program is preserved in an autograph that probably dates from 1707-9. Given the sometimes impossibly high register of the solo line, this work was most likely for a higher instrument, but Kurosaki and Christie adapt the work beautifully and it makes for a sunny opening to a program that is indeed full of delights.

Although it may offend some who believe JS Bach to be the god of all music, these ears have always found Handel’s melodies to be more immediately appealing and easier on the ear, while the Kantor of Leipzig’s music is far more satisfying to the brain and the soul. Handel’s gift for the dramatic is played out in the sonatas from the 1720s and 1730s when his operatic activity was at its apex. Characterized by sweeping gestures and lofty cantabile melodies, the most beautiful of which are in minor keys, these showpieces are interspersed with some spectacular virtuosity.

Handel’s manuscripts contain only two lines, the melody and a bass line to be realized by the performer. Given that flexibility was of paramount importance to baroque musicians, the decision as to whether or not to use a bass instrument is more or less left up to the performer. Kurosaki and Christie have decided to eschew the cello, and the result is completely satisfying. Switching back and forth between the harpsichord and portative organ, William Christie proves why he is one of the world’s greatest baroque musicians. Inventiveness and sensitivity are the key words to describe his elegant and masterful playing. He is well matched by the sweet and warm tone of Kurosaki, who brings his 1690 Rogeri violin to brilliant life, producing elegant lines, flawless intonation and an infectious dramatic flair.

It would be quite impossible not to enjoy these tuneful and elegant works, especially in a performance that is so understatedly beautiful. David Vickers provides informative notes that combine description and history in a perfect balance. Sound quality is clear, resonant but not blurringly reverberant, a trait that is refreshing given most engineers’ tendency to over-mic the harpsichord imparting an unnaturally loud presence, one that would never be experienced in a live performance. This is a delightful hour of music which should have an appeal to a wide swathe of listeners.

Kevin Sutton

An hour of delights from one of history’s most dramatic and elegant composers. Sure to please.