Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Handel Sonatas for violin and basso continuo

Handel Sonatas for violin and basso continuo; The Brook Street Band; AVIE
Handel Sonatas for violin and basso continuo; The Brook Street Band; AVIE
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 June 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★)
Spanning virtually the whole of Handel's composing life, these sonatas are brought to life in engaging performances

Having recorded all of Handel's trio sonatas, The Brook Street Band has returned to the composer's chamber music for a disc of his Sonatas for violin and basso continuo on Avie Records. Violinist Rachel Harris, cellist Tatty Theo and harpsichordist Carolyn Gibley perform all nine sonatas which are attributed to Handel.

The history of Handel's violin sonatas is somewhat problematic. We only have autograph manuscripts for five of them, whilst four appear in publications from John Walsh, published during Handel's lifetime. There are good arguments for assuming that these four have their origins in manuscripts by Handel, but we have no way of knowing for certain and Walsh was notorious for his piracy.

The sonatas cover a remarkably wide range of Handel's career. Sonata in G major HWV 358 dates from Handel's Italian period, 1707-1710, whilst the sonatas in D minor HWV 359a, in A major HWV 361 and in G minor HWV 364a probably date from 1724-26. The four sonatas lacking autographs were published by Walsh in 1730 and 1732/33, whilst the last sonata dates from 1749-50, a period when Handel wrote virtually no chamber music, which leaves open the question as to why he wrote it and for whom.


We know very little about the works, with few newspaper or diary entries, partly because they were very much aimed at the domestic market and would hardly have been considered for performance in theatres or at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

Any doubts that you might have about the works are swept away in these performances from Rachel Harris, Tatty Theo and Carolyn Gibley. As a trio they perform superbly and wonderfully sympathetically, with Theo and Gibley supporting Harris in an admirable manner. And whilst the violin dominates, there is enough interest in the other two parts to bring these closer to ensemble chamber music at times.

Harris plays with vibrant and engaging tone, making the slow movements sing and she brings the faster ones to vivid life. She makes the music come alive with a nice attention to detail combined with a singing tone which works well. These are period performances, but ones which are full of musicality and great style.

80 minutes of Baroque violin sonatas, some of which we can only say may be by Handel, can sound rather forbidding but The Brook Street Band bring a lovely combination of virtuosity and vibrancy to the performances, really engaging the audience and making you want to listen for more.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Violin sonata in G HWV 358
George Frideric Handel - Violin sonata in D minor HWV 359a
George Frideric Handel - Violin sonata in A HWV 361
George Frideric Handel - Violin sonata in G minor HWV 364a
George Frideric Handel - Violin sonata in A HWV 372
George Frideric Handel - Violin sonata in E HWV 373
George Frideric Handel - Violin sonata in G minor HWV 368
George Frideric Handel - Violin sonata in F HWV 370
George Frideric Handel - Violin sonata in D HWV 371
The Brook Street Band (Rachel Harris, baroque violin, Tatty Theo, baroque cello, Carolyn Gibley, harpsichord)
Recorded 23-26 January 2018, The Great Barn, Oxnead Hall, Norfolk
AVIE AV2387 1CD [80.00]
Available from Amazon.



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