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George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Handel’s Recorder
The Musick for the Royal Fireworks set for recorder and basso continuo (1749) [14:07]
Sonata No. 2 in G minor, HWV360 [7:37]
Sonata No. 4 in A minor, HWV362 [10:07]
Sonata No. 7 in C major, HWV365 [10:06]
Sonata No. 11 in F major, HWV369 [7:00]
Ruth Wilkinson (recorder), Miriam Morris (viola da gamba), John O’Donnell (harpsichord)
rec. 9-24 November 2010, Iwaki Auditorium, Melbourne, Australia
DIVINE ART DDA25124 [48:57]

Readers of these pages may have noticed that I do not have a great enthusiasm for the sound of the recorder. It probably goes back to primary school days when someone bought me a plastic instrument and insisted I learnt to play ‘Greensleeves’. I never did get the hang of it. Fortunately I still enjoy that wonderful old English melody. A number of years later, I had to endure a church concert of music by a ‘recorder group’: it was horrendously out of tune. So it came as an agreeable surprise to discover that I enjoyed and appreciated every bar of this latest CD of recorder and continuo music from Divine Art.

I am one of those listeners who enjoys Handel’s music, but I am not an out and out enthusiast. I have explored the keyboard music, the Concerti Grossi, a handful of oratorios and operas and a few of the songs. From an early age the ‘Musick’ for ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Water’ have been part of my musical landscape, be it in authentic versions or transcriptions by Hamilton Harty or Thomas Beecham. I have not previously come across this delightful contemporary (of Handel) arrangement of ‘The Musick for the Royal Fireworks’ made by John Walsh (1665/6-1735).

The original composition was written in 1749 to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle in 1748. It was first heard in London’s Green Park played by a wind and brass ensemble of some eccentricity. This was later scored by the composer for full orchestra. Walsh transcribed the music for ‘German Flute, Violin or Harpsichord’ however on this disc that wind instrument is replaced by the recorder in D, which has a similar range. The liner-notes are not clear as to whether Handel approved of the arrangement.

The thing that struck me most about this version of the ‘Firework’ music was its clarity. Every detail and nuance of this hugely popular work is well-defined and consistently fresh and exploits the unique character of each instrument.

I am equally enthusiastic about the four Sonatas for recorder and basso continuo presented on this disc. I have not consciously come across this music before. The Sonatas were published in ‘Solos for a German flute a Hoboy (q.v.) or Violin with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsichord or Bass Violin composed by Mr. Handel’ by John Walsh around 1732. Handel originally wrote them for ‘flauto’ which refers to a recorder. The Sonatas are presented on this disc with harpsichord and a sustaining bass instrument; however the viola da gamba part may have been optional. In Sonata No. 4 the string instrument is not used due to scholarship suggesting that the bass part was too complex for that instrument and demanded a harpsichord.

The liner-notes point out that Handel ‘cashes in’ on some of his popular operatic and choral works. Self borrowings include music from Agrippina, Filli adorata and one of the Chandos anthems. The Sonata No.11 was later rewritten as an organ concerto and that is why I thought that I had heard this elsewhere.

These Sonatas are full of interest. The slow movements can be heard as ‘songs (or arias) without words’, the dance movements are full of vitality and sheer fun. The liner notes suggest that they are like ‘mini-operas. It is a good comparison.

The three performers are noted for their contribution to ‘the growth and popularity of early music’ in Australia for more than thirty years. All of them are teachers and lecturers at the University of Melbourne and have encouraged many students in early music performance.

The liner-notes (anon) are excellent and give all the information required to enjoy and appreciate this music. The ‘period’ instruments used are of recent construction and were made in Australia.

My only criticism of this CD is that it appears a wee bit short of music. At just shy of 49 minutes the listener will feel that a few more Sonatas could have filled up the empty space.

This is an excellent disc and will be in demand for all Handel enthusiasts. It is stunningly played and beautifully presented.

John France