Friday 11 March 2016

Winning performances - Brook Street Band in Handel trio sonatas

Handel trio sonatas - The Brook Street Band
Handel trio sonatas; The Brook Street Band; AVIE
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 82016
Star rating: 5.0

Joyful accounts of trio sonatas not published in Handel's lifetime

The Brook Street Band has already recorded Handel's Trio Sonatas Opus 2 and Opus 5. On this new disc Handel Trio Sonatas for Two Violins and Basso Continuo from Avie the band (Rachel Harris, Farran Scott, Tatty Theo and Carolyn Gibley) record the strays, trio sonatas which Handel wrote at various times in his career but never published. These encompass the 'Dresden' trio sonatas HWV392-HWV394, trio sonata HWV403 'Saul', trio sonata HWV386a plus two works whose scoring lends them to trio sonata performance, Sinfonia in B flat HWV339 and the overture to Esther HWV 50a.

Handel seems to have written trio sonatas for most of his life, and the sinfonia HWV339 dates from his Hamburg period (1704-1706). But it is tricky dating such works accurately. The Dresden trio sonatas are so called because they survive in manuscript copies in Dresden and one of them may date from Handel's time in Dresden in 1719 when he was recruiting singers. Published copies are useful as they not only give a terminus ad quem for the works, but the dedicatory preface can be quite informative. Lacking this and reliant on manuscripts not in Handel's hand, stylistic analysis other such tools must be used. HWV403 is linked to the oratorio Saul and shares material with the oratorio though it is not clear what came first.

The Brook Street Band
The Brook Street Band
Works like the original version of the overture to Esther were scored for an ensemble without violas. Handel wrote it for the Duke of Chandos at Cannons where the establishment was quite small. This means that it works well for trio sonata forces, and we know from Handel's other trio sonatas that he re-used such material at will.

All this need not bother us when we actually put the disc on. The Brook Street Band, founded in 1996, is named for the street where Handel had his London residence. And the group clearly has an affinity for the music. They bring out a vivacity and joy in all the works, with highly charismatic performances. There is a liveliness and immediacy in their playing of the faster movements, and a nice sense of lyricism in the slower ones. The present line-up of the band has been in place since 2005 and the players are clearly well used to each other. This shows in the enormous felicity and give and take that they bring to the works.

The music is played in presumed chronological order which means that, if we care to, we can play the game of spotting the changes in his style. Handel's writing is enormously fecund, even though he reused material he always but a new spin on it. There are 26 movements on this disc, each one different Though there is over 75 minutes of music for two violins and harpsichord with violoncello doubling the bass line might seem a trial, it is anything but in these winning performances. You sense the players great enjoyment of the music and their eagerness for you to enjoy it to. Technically these are very fine, but it is the this sense of joy which makes the disc a must.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Sinfonia in B flat HWV339  (c1704-6)[11.07]
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Trio Sonata in F HWV392 (c1706-7) [12.09]
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Trio Sonata in B flat HWV50a 'Esther' (c1718) [7.29]
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Trio Sonata in G minor HWV393 (1719) [10.13]
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Trio Sonata in E HWV394  [10.58]
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Trio Sonata in C minor HWV386a (c1717-19) [11.19]
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Trio Sonata in C HWV430 'Saul' (1738) [9.22]
The Brook Street Band (Rachel Harris, Farran Scott - baroque violins, Tatty Theo - baroque cello, Carolyn Gibbs - harpsichord)
Recorded Raveningham Church, 7-10 September 2015
AVIE AV2357 1CD [76.10]

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