Notes and Editorial Reviews
Specially priced reissue - includes Harmonia Mundi Catalog
Review of the original release from ClassicsToday.com:
The producers of this superbly played program, packed full of exciting moments, made a sonic decision that seems at odds with the character of the instruments and the intimate nature of the music, ultimately consigning our listening experience to a conflict between focusing on the brilliant violin playing and being too aware of the acoustic setting. The recording was made at one of Harmonia Mundi’s favorite--and most successful--venues, Skywalker Sound in northern California. Unlike most other compilations of these Handel sonatas, Manze performs them with only harpsichord accompaniment--no
cello-realization of the bass line. So, we have only two instruments, but the sonic environment is at once very dry--Manze’s violin is unusually coarse-grained--yet is set in a very resonant space, as if we’re hearing the two players from a distance in a huge, empty cathedral. Eventually your ear becomes fairly accustomed to this and you can just settle back and enjoy the music, but there’s a lingering sense of incompatibility between instruments and setting, and--at least in my case--a persistent desire for a warmer string tone and much closer perspective.
Although these aren’t among the greatest violin works, they’re just so much fun to play (as I used to) and listen to; and they are so prodigiously playable--and sound like it, especially in the hands of a commanding, confident performer like Manze, whose superlative credentials need no summarization here. Because of the convoluted and confusing history of these pieces, no two recordings can be directly compared--instrumentation, included and excluded repertoire, and other stylistic choices, such as pitch and ornamentation, are different in every case. Manze chooses a lower-than-standard pitch (A=415) and includes even the strange G major “sonata” (which he describes in the informative liner notes as “an unwanted orphan”) along with two fragments. We can only marvel at the naturalness and ease with which this phenomenal musician turns and spins and, yes, even illuminates these pieces (which, unlike many other commentators, I feel are highly underrated and underappreciated). He and his partner, harpsichordist Richard Egarr, play around with the tempos of some of the Adagios more than I am used to--the F major in particular--but when they’re finished, you’re satisfied and convinced that the approach is valid.
Manze’s explanation to the contrary, I still believe that the traditional addition of a cello not only helps fill out the texture but also gives more solidity to the violin’s melody line against it. That’s why I still prefer Iona Brown’s long-deleted readings on Philips (with Nicholas Kraemer and Denis Vigay); her colorful, uninhibited performances of the wonderful F major and A major sonatas are exemplary (even though the late-‘70s/early-‘80s sound is, as here, somewhat dry). Rachel Barton and colleagues offer a sort of modern/period mix on Cedille--Barton’s singing, lyrical interpretation is realized at standard pitch on a modernized Baroque violin, accompanied by authentic (occasionally heavy-handed) period cello and harpsichord. Other versions of these sonatas usually are found on compilations, one or two of them mixed in with other pieces, with the violin part sometimes taken by another instrument. So, with slim pickings in recorded versions of these works, we’re left with less-than-ideal choices, each of which requires some compromise. For now, I’ll certainly hang on to my old copy of Iona Brown’s performances; but I’ll keep this one too, for a reminder of how one of today’s true masters enlivens and elevates music that many less-capable and/or imaginative performers consistently ignore.
– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Basso Continuo in F major, HWV 370/Op. 1 no 12 by George Frideric Handel
Richard Egarr (Harpsichord),
Andrew Manze (Violin)
Written: London, England
Date of Recording: 11/1998
Venue: Skywalker Sound Studios, Nicasio, CA
Length: 13 Minutes 43 Secs.
Notes: The attribution of this work to Handel is doubtful.
Composition written: London, England (Circa 1726 - Circa 1732).
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