Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonatas: in G,
, HWV 360
The Brook Street Band
AVIE 2118 (55:58)
Handel wrote cello sonatas? Surprisingly, he seems to have written none. Nevertheless, composers and musicians of the Baroque era freely transcribed music as the desire or need arose, and so it is not an outrageous idea to make cello sonatas out of six of Handel’s sonatas for recorder and basso continuo. In the present case, this has been done by harpsichordist Carolyn Gibley, who is half of The Brook Street Band. (The other half is cellist Tatty Theo.) Gibley has transposed the sonatas into keys more suited for the cello. Sensibly, she has chosen to accompany the cello with harpsichord alone (Handel also suggested bass violin), presumably because the cello and the bass violin would make a poor match—and also because there are only two musicians in The Brook Street Band, I imagine!
Although I love the sound of the recorder, I was not displeased to hear these sonatas played on the cello. This is some of Handel’s most intimate and salubrious music, and while there is a good variety of tempos, moods, and textures, the music works consistently to unknot whatever tangles the workday has introduced into the soul. This is true whether it is played on the recorder or on the cello. Obviously the two instruments affect listeners in different and personal ways, but there’s nothing about Gibley’s transcriptions that falsifies Handel’s originals, at least as far as my ears are concerned.
Theo plays a Baroque cello dating from circa 1741 (probably 10–20 years after Handel composed these sonatas), and Gibley plays a 1990 Alan Gotto harpsichord based on an instrument built by Mietke circa 1710. The instruments blend together nicely. Theo’s cello has a lean, attractive sound, with more muscle and sinew than modern instruments. Even when Theo’s playing is at its most energetic, her cello sings. As the sole continuo player, Gibley is very much an equal partner, and she fills out Handel’s harmonies with imagination and period-style grace. Together, Theo and Gibley make a joyous noise, even if the joy is of the more mellow variety.
The engineering is wonderful, and Theo’s booklet note helpfully clarifies some of the confusion related to the provenance of the original sonatas. I can’t imagine anyone disliking this CD, unless they are opposed, in principle, to its underlying concept.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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