HANDEL Six Trio Sonatas, op. 2. Passacaille, op. 5/4 • The Brook Street Band (period instruments) • AVIE 2282 (69:49)
Handel’s music is always such a joy to listen to, I’m not sure how much we should trouble ourselves over how his works are identified or numbered in the listings. But just to clarify what’s on this disc, the updated or modern version of the Read more style="font-style:italic">Händel-Gesellschaft catalog places these sonatas in Volume XXVII, headed “Kammermusik: Sonate da Camera.” Falling under this heading are four subheadings or Parts, of which op. 2 is consigned to Part III: Nine Sonatas for Two Violins, Continuo, and Bass, as follows: B Minor, op. 2/1 (HWV 386b); G Minor, op. 2/2 (HWV 387); B? Major, op. 2/3 (HWV 388); F Major, op. 2/4 (HWV 389); G Minor, op. 2/5 (HWV 390a); G Minor, op. 2/6 (HWV 391).
But that’s only six. The Händel-Gesellschaft catalog places nine sonatas in this grouping. So what gives? Well, here’s the scoop: op. 2/1 (HWV 386b) turns up in an alternate version as HWV 386a, but in C Minor instead of B Minor, my guess is to accommodate performance on flute in place of violin. There’s an HWV 392 in G Minor, which was not published in the original op. 2 set of six sonatas, and which is considered spurious by some Handel scholars. And finally, there’s a Sonata in E Major listed as op. 2/9 (HWV 394), again not published as part of the original set. But when the set was first published in 1733, they appeared in print as “IX Sonatas or Trios for Two Violins, Flutes, or Hoboys with a Thorough Bass for the Harpischor [sic] or Violoncello.”
The Brook Street Band gives us the standard six listed in the first paragraph above, including as a bonus, the Passacaille, which I headlined as coming from op. 5/4, but which Handel actually made use of in a number of different works. I can’t be sure why the players have ordered the sonatas on the disc as they have—Nos. 3, 2, 4, 5, 1, and 6—but a good guess would be to avoid the adjacency of minor-key sonatas, three of which are in G Minor. One other note: Though the Händel-Gesellschaft catalog places these sonatas under the category of “Kammermusik: Sonate da Camera,” all but one of these sonatas are of the chiesa (church) type, meaning they’re in four movements that follow a slow-fast-slow-fast layout. The exception, No. 4 in F Major, adds a fifth movement, an additional Allegro, at the end.
Since the original printing indicates that these sonatas or trios may be played by two violins, flutes, or oboes, The Brook Street Band, named, by the way, for Handel’s London residence, divides the pieces up accordingly; however, the ensemble, as it’s constituted, is oboe-less. Members are Rachel Harris and Farran Scott, Baroque violins; Lisete da Silva, flute and recorder; Tatty Theo, Baroque cello; and Carolyn Gibley, harpsichord.
Despite the 1733 publication date, it’s believed Handel composed these trio sonatas as early as 1722. Consider, though, that by then he was a well-established opera composer in London. Some of his most important operas date from this period—Ottone, Flavio, Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, and Rodelinda were all composed between 1722 and 1725. I mention this because the slow movements of these trios are emotively expressive in much the same way as Handel’s arias are in his operas of these years, gorgeous cantilenas spun out with affective lyrical beauty. In contrast, the fast-paced movements anticipate the vivacious, energetic drive to come in the later organ concertos and concerti grossi. They’re full of spirited invention, and performed here by The Brook Street Band with lots of spring and bounce, along with some delightfully spontaneous-sounding embellishments added for good measure.
There is competition in these works, and it’s not insignificant, from groups like Sonnerie with Monica Huggett, and the Academy of Ancient Music, led by Richard Egarr. I have Sonnerie’s recording on Avie, and have been very happy with it. But The Brook Street Band’s playing strikes me as sounding freer, more natural, and less constrained. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is less studied. In any case, these are wonderful performances of uplifting music beautifully recorded. What more could you want? Very strongly recommended.
Good music, but my jewel box arrived brokenApril 12, 2014By George S. (Needham, MA)See All My Reviews"All those little things that keep the CD in place in the box were smashed when I opened it for the first time."Report Abuse