HANDEL Violin Sonatas: in D, HWV 371; in A, HWV 361; in d, HWV 359a; in g, HWV 364a; in G, HWV 358; in F, HWV 370; in g, HWV 368; in A, HWV 372; in E, HWV 373.Read moreAndante in a, HWV 412. Allegro in c, HWV 408 • Ariadne Daskalakis (vn); Ens Vintage Köln (period instruments) • NAXOS 8.572245 (77:23)
Ariadne Daskalakis and the Ensemble Vintage Köln have assembled their program of George Frideric Handel’s violin sonatas in such a way as to include works undoubtedly by the composer as well as others of questionable (at least recently) origin. Their program, played on period instruments (Daskalakis on a Januarius Gagliano violin from 1723, with a viola da gamba, cello, and harpsichord filling out the continuo group—all at A = 415) opens with the familiar Sonata in D Major, HWV 371, which sounds by turns sumptuous (the slow movements) and sharply articulated (the fast ones) in the ensemble’s reading. The continuo group plays with an ear attuned to textural subtleties and engages in intelligent dialog with the soloist, some of it, as in the finale, engagingly energetic (an occasional roulade maintains the voltage at a high level). The A-Major Sonata, HWV 361, opens with an Andante in which Daskalakis and the ensemble create a sense of the serene breadth that Samuel Butler noted in Handel’s works (he hoped to achieve the literary analog), while the Allegro combines wit and charm. But it turns Italian, resembling in its passagework (and in the ensemble’s performance of it) movements from sonatas by Francesco Maria Veracini. Daskalakis’s tone production seems to fall to the astringent side of center, as in the opening movement of the Sonata in D Minor, HWV 359a, although the third-movement Adagio seems a bit richer tonally. Of course, that acid content helps propel the final Allegro forward. In the first Allegro of the Sonata in G Minor, HWV 364a, however, Daskalakis sounds husky, although deploying exceptionally sharp articulation that some might decry as anomalous. The G-Major Sonata, HWV 358, opens with a movement that resembles Joseph-Hector Fiocco’s bustling Allegro, which, transcribed for violin, has become a staple of that instrument’s encore repertoire. But, as Daskalakis’s notes point out, there’s no indication of instrumentation in the piece, so it could have been intended for flute, despite this violin-like passagework. Daskalakis approaches the work, with its gestures recalling Arcangelo Corelli’s (and some stratospheric ones in the finale), as a born (and not born-again) violin piece. Two stray movements, an Andante in A Minor, HWV 412, and an Allegro in C Minor, HWV 408, separate the unquestionably authentic sonatas in the program from those less certainly Handel’s.
The sonatas in F Major, HWV 370, in G Minor, HWV 368, in A Major, HWV 372, and in E Major, HWV 373, will be familiar to listeners, as so many of them once appeared in collections as Handel’s own. Nowadays it may be more fashionable to omit them from recordings, although, as Daskalakis points out in the notes, they’re generally well crafted and offer pleasure in themselves. For example, the first Allegro of the F-Major Sonata (as well, perhaps, as the final Allegro) bears at least a resemblance to Handel’s melodic manner. If there’s a detectable difference practically and not merely a musicological one, Daskalakis doesn’t allow any such considerations to lead her to treat the sonata as a second-rate work. As with the G-Minor Sonata, Daskalakis in her notes questions whether Handel might not have been the composer, after all (and there’s a strong similarity between the passagework of the sonata’s first Allegro and that of the authentic D-Major Sonata). Sometimes Daskalakis sounds a bit raucous, at least timbrally, in the final Gigue, but on the whole her performance seems winningly energetic. The Sonata in A Major may not equal the F-Major and G-Minor sonatas in compositional polish, but the E-Major Sonata, for one, appeared on programs of Jascha Heifetz, who played it with panache and verve. (There’s plenty of verve in the finale of the A-Major Sonata as well.)
Rachel Barton Pine’s recording of the sonatas, from 1997 (Cedille 90000 032, Fanfare 21:1), achieved a level of authenticity while employing a mixture of modern and period equipment; style’s the thing, and her enthusiastic readings should provide an attractive alternative for those who don’t warm to period timbres, while for those who do, Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr’s highly nuanced version on Harmonia Mundi France 907259, Fanfare 25:3, offers one that combines logic and rhetoric (blending two components of the medieval trivium). However that may be, Daskalakis’s compilation can be recommended as an energetic reading of everything, apocrypha included.