Notes and Editorial Reviews
op. 2, HWV 386b, 387-391; op. 5, HWV 396-402
Richard Egarr (hpd); dir; Pavlo Beznosiuk (vn); Rodolfo Richter (vn); Rachel Brown (fl, rcr); Joseph Crouch (vc) (period instruments)
HARMONIA MUNDI USA 907467 (2 CDs: 142:00)
Handel’s two published collections of trio sonatas are very different. The op. 2 set, all of which were probably written by 1720, adhere strictly to the Corellian
sonata da chiesa
of four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast, with the exception of No. 4, which has five movements and ends with two allegro movements. They are generally rather serious in nature. The op. 5 set, published in 1739, contains seven sonatas instead of the usual six, usually (but not always) beginning with the
sonata da chiesa
format but containing additional movements in dance form. Unlike the op. 2 set, the op. 5 sonatas were largely assembled from other works of Handel, especially the sinfonias to the Chandos Anthems and the ballet music Handel wrote for the operas he performed in 1734–35. Considering the unusual number of sonatas in this set, it is likely that No. 4, which does not conform to the pattern of the other works, was compiled by the publisher Walsh and inserted without Handel’s involvement. Richard Egarr writes that the op. 5 sonatas are “huge fun to perform”; I would add that they are also huge fun to hear.
All of the performers are members of the Academy of Ancient Music. Egarr’s notes state that this recording is the end of the Academy’s project to record all of Handel’s works with opus numbers. It was begun with the op. 6 concerti grossi when Andrew Manze was its director. It was continued a few years ago when Egarr became its director. In a previous issue, I reviewed their recording of the op. 1 solo sonatas. What I said there applies equally here: “The Academy of Ancient Music is one of the best and oldest of period-instrument groups, so it should come as no surprise that its performances are excellent in every way. The music is not rushed but is given room to make its effect. The performers tease the rhythm so that the performance never sounds rigid or mechanical. Ornaments are applied, especially in slow movements, but in faster ones as well.” I would add that the group approaches the two sets somewhat differently. The more-serious op. 2 sonatas are played with fewer ornaments and variation, befitting the nature of the works. In the op. 5 sonatas, the players feel free to apply more ornaments and have more fun with the music.
While this set does not eclipse my favorite recordings of these works, those of L’Ecole d’Orphée on CRD as part of its six-disc series of the complete chamber music (also available, but only as a six-disc set, from Brilliant), it is worthy of a place alongside the CRD recordings. Let us hope that Egarr and his colleagues will decide to commit to disc those works, both chamber and orchestral, that were not published with opus numbers during Handel’s lifetime.
FANFARE: Ron Salemi
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