George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Sonatas for violin & basso continuo
The Brook Street Band: Rachel Harris (baroque violin), Tatty Theo (baroque cello), Carolyn Gibley (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, The Great Barn, Oxnead Hall, UK
AVIE AV2387 [80.00]
There has been a number of particularly attractive recent releases from Avie and none finer than this outstanding recording of Handel’s Sonatas for violin and basso continuo played by The Brook Street Band. It comes as no surprise that Handel, who is most admired for his large scale works for the stage, was also a master of the miniature form.
Owing to the lack of autograph manuscripts, it is difficult to determine exactly how many violin sonatas Handel wrote. This release contains nine; however, only five of them have supporting autograph manuscripts. The genuine five sonatas cover a forty-year period; the earliest work in G major was composed in 1707-10 during Handel’s time in Italy, while the D major score is from the period 1749/50 when he was living in England. In the booklet notes, Tatty Theo says that The Brook Street Band believe the remaining four “spurious” sonatas could actually be from Handel’s pen, as they contain a number of features characteristic of the composer.
It has been normal practice in the twentieth-century to perform these violin sonatas accompanied by harpsichord or cello. The justly celebrated 1998 Skywalker Sound accounts on Harmonia Mundi, from Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr, use violin and harpsicord. Admirable, too, is the 2002 Paris recording played by Hiro Kurosaki and William Christie on Virgin, although the harpsichord is set rather too far back. On the other hand, these considered accounts from The Brook Street Band use the richer accompaniment of both harpsichord and cello, an approach which on balance I prefer.
The Brook Street Band brings the sonatas to life with fresh, eminently stylish accounts, performed with impressive audible detail. Baroque violinist Rachel Harris using an anonymous eighteenth-century instrument, plays with discernment and vibrancy, communicating a distinct sense of freedom. Undoubtedly Tatty Theo and Carolyn Gibley’s rich and varied bassline feels connected to the violin as if in conversation. Recorded at The Great Barn, Oxnead Hall, Norwich, the sound engineers can be applauded for providing excellent clarity, presence and balance. High quality, too, is the interesting and informative booklet essay written by Tatty Theo.
Handel’s violin sonatas could hardly receive finer advocacy than these exceptional performances here from The Brook Street Band.
List of works:
01-03. Violin Sonata in G major, HWV. 358 [5:21]
04-07. Violin Sonata in D minor, HWV. 359a [7:42]
08-11. Violin Sonata in A major, HWV. 361 [7:53]
12-15. Violin Sonata in G minor, HWV. 364a [6:35]
16-19. Violin Sonata in A major, HWV. 372 [7:52]
20-23. Violin Sonata in E major, HWV. 373 [9:10]
24-27. Violin Sonata in G minor, HWV. 368 [9:43]
28-31. Violin Sonata in F major, HWV. 370 [12:38]
32-35. Violin Sonata in D major, HWV. 371 [12:47]