George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Violin Sonatas: in A (HWV 361) [8:29]; g minor (HWV 364a) [6:58]; F (HWV 370) [16:05]; d minor (HWV 359a) [8:25]; G (HWV 358) [5:01]; D (HWV 371) [12:01]; A (HWV 372) [7:42]; e minor (HWV 375) [8:51]
Riccardo Minasi (violin)
Musica Antiqua Roma (Marco Ceccato (cello), Luca Pianca (archlute), Giulia Nuti (harpsichord))
rec. 26-28 October 2009, Santa Maria in Portico di Fontegiusta, Siena, Italy. DDD
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88697 70531 2 [78:36]
Record companies work in mysterious ways. Only last year Sony released a recording of Handel's violin sonatas on its Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label, with the Swiss violinist Julia Schröder (reviewed here). The recording dated from October 2010. Exactly one year earlier the Italian violinist Riccardo Minasi recorded largely the same sonatas with his ensemble Musica Antiqua Roma. This is now released on the same label. This way Sony organises the competition for its previous release, as it were. A most odd policy.
That said, this recording is different from Ms Schröder's. She only recorded those sonatas which are considered authentic, although she included the Sonata in g minor (HWV 364), which is spurious, a fact the author of the liner-notes omitted to mention. Minasi included three other sonatas which count as not authentic: HWV 370, 371 and 375. The corpus of Handel's chamber music is quite complex. Unscrupulous publishers like John Walsh took profit from the popularity of Handel's music by printing music under his name which was not from his pen. They also changed the scorings and even transposed sonatas to different keys. This is the reason that recordings of Handel's chamber music can greatly differ in regard to what is included and what is left out or in relation to the scoring.
The violin sonatas were written over about four decades. The earliest is the Sonata in G (HWV 358) which dates from Handel's years in Italy. The scoring for the violin is questionable, and it has been suggested that its primary scoring could have been for a soprano recorder. Three sonatas on the programme of this disc are from the mid-1720s: the Sonata in d minor (HWV 359a), the Sonata in A (HWV 361) and the Sonata in g minor (HWV 364a). The latter two are from a collection which was published by John Walsh as opus 1. Here the Sonata in g minor is printed as scored for the oboe, but the manuscript which has survived indicates the violin as the solo instrument. The Sonata in d minor was also part of Walsh's print, but there in a version for transverse flute, very likely not according to Handel's intentions. The Sonata in D (HWV 371) dates from around 1750, and is the latest of his sonatas for violin. It contains various borrowings from previous vocal and instrumental compositions.
I very much liked the way Julia Schröder played the sonatas, but I had serious objections against the whole concept of her recording which made me assess it rather negatively. This recording by Riccardo Minasi is certainly different, but definitely not better. In fact, I often found his playing downright ugly. I heard him first in Handel sonatas during the 2009 Utrecht Early Music Festival. I disliked his approach to these sonatas which emphasizes their virtuosity at the cost of expression and emotion. The most horrible example then and on this disc is the first movement of the Sonata in G (HWV 358) which is played at breakneck pace. As a result it is devoid of clear phrasing and articulation. Another example is the closing allegro of the Sonata in g minor (HWV 364a). There is little articulation, the treatment of dynamics is arbitrary and the closing chord is very abrupt and rough. This is indicative of the way Minasi plays: technically impressive, but also abrasive and rough-edged, with an often scratchy tone. The use of flageolet in the closing movement of the Sonata in G (HWV 358) is an uncalled for trick. The allegro from the Sonata in A (HWV 372) is simply ill-favoured.
There are some moments where Minasi shows that he can achieve good things when he restrains himself, as in the opening affettuoso of the Sonata in D (HWV 371) or in the last piece of the programme, the Sonata in e minor (HWV 375). Those snippets only underline how much better this disc could have been and how much Minasi has fallen short in expressing the beauty of Handel's sonatas. One of Handel's main qualities is his ability to move an audience. Unfortunately this disc fails on this front.
Johan van Veen
Virtuosity at the cost of expression and emotion.