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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Works for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord
Sonata in G minor, HWV 364b [7:01]
Sonata in G major, HWV 372 (arranged by Ibrahim Aziz) [9:01]
‘Kassel’ Sonata No. 5 in D major (attributed) [8:05] Monsieur DE SAINTE-COLOMBE LE FILS (c1660-1720?)
Prelude from Suite in E minor [5:26] George Frideric HANDEL
Harpsichord Suite in E minor, HWV 429 (arranged by Gottlieb Muffat) [15:24]
Prelude from Harpsichord Suite in D minor, HWV 437 (arranged by Ibrahim Aziz) [1:43]
Suite in D minor, HWV 447 (arranged by Ibrahim Aziz) [18:15]
Sonata for viola da gamba and obbligato harpsichord in C major (attributed) [12:09]
Ibrahim Aziz (viola da gamba)
Masumi Yamamoto (harpsichord)
rec. 2019, Church of the Ascension, Plumstead, London FIRST HAND RECORDS FHR91 [77:26]
First a few caveats. Strictly speaking the disc’s title is a touch misleading, in that it attempts to bring within Handel’s ambit chamber works for an instrument in which he seems to have had little interest, even though it had not entirely fallen out of fashion in England by the time he lived and worked here. Only the Sonata HWV 364b was written with the viola da gamba explicitly in mind, but even then only as an afterthought or alternative – a common enough practice in the Baroque period – as a note in the manuscript indicates that this composition for violin can also be played an octave lower on the other instrument. The ‘Kassel’ Sonata and that in C major, concluding the disc, are in all probability not by Handel. The other pieces are arrangements. The Prelude from a Suite by Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe le fils (son of the better-known Jean de Sainte-Colombe, and whose first name is apparently not recorded) is included on the basis that this composer lived and worked in England, like Handel.
Nonetheless, these technicalities should not deter the listener from appreciating the music and performances here on their own terms. Ibrahim Aziz audibly makes the works his own on the viola da gamba, for instance, in the supple, yearning lines of the two slow movements of HWV 364b. The relatively small, dry tone of the original 1712 instrument by Barak Norman which Aziz uses for this – as also for the HWV 372 and ‘Kassel’ Sonatas – brings out a certain refined delicacy in this music, which helps the Gigue-like finale to skip along appropriately. The interpretation of HWV 372 makes it a very different beast from the bright-toned A major composition for violin of the original – incidentally probably not by Handel, although it was included in his Opus 1 publication of solo Sonatas. Not only is it played in a lower register, Aziz also transposes it down to G major, making for a much mellower work. In its higher range, the instrument sounds almost husky, and elsewhere its small tone becomes somewhat submerged in the more resonant timbre of Masumi Yamamoto’s playing on the harpsichord - but Aziz thrillingly vies for attention in the finale by elaborating some of its semiquaver sequences with still-faster bariolage passages.
The ’Kassel’ Sonata is one of a collection kept in the library of Kassel University and has been ascribed to Handel, though Johann Jakob Kress is also suggested as a composer. It lacks Handel’s instantly memorable melodic sparkle – which even the composer of HWV 372 was clearly able to ape – but Aziz despatches it with playful enthusiasm nevertheless. Before he turns to a more resonant modern viola da gamba by Shem Mackey from 2011, Yamamoto performs HWV 429 by herself – one of the eight ‘Great Suites’ of 1720 – in a simplified version by
Gottlieb Muffat. His alterations comprise some Gallicising ornaments however, which Yamamoto keeps under stylish control.
Aziz brings a ruminative quality to his solo arrangement of the Prelude to the harpsichord Suite HWV 437 – a catalogued independently as HWV 561 and appended to that Suite. The modern viola da gamba in this half of the disc sounds grandly at the opening of the Suite HWV 448, which is arranged by Aziz from the harpsichord original to encompass the string instrument as well, taking the melodic line for the most part. It sings and sighs elegantly in the relatively slower movements of the Allemande and Sarabande, and the Chaconne is similarly relaxed. That fatally undermines the sense of a furious dash to the end, but Aziz takes the liberty of repeating the main theme in an ornamented fashion at the conclusion to create a different sort of climax. Yamamoto may be relegated to an essentially accompanying role in this work, but her playing remains dependable.
The final Sonata in C major is another work attributed to Handel, although it does not feature in the official catalogue of his works. Johann Leffloth may be the composer instead and, charming as it is, the Sonata does not sound like Handel. Aziz surprisingly omits to sustain a more singing tone in the opening Larghetto, making it rather brisk, but he and Yamamoto impart lively energy to the two faster movements.
Overall, this disc casts an interesting angle, from several sideways slants, upon Handel’s output. Whether it much alters our perception of his achievement is up to the listener to judge, but the musical results are certainly enjoyable.