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George Frideric HANDEL & Nicola Francesco HAYM: "Trio Sonatas"

L'Aura Rilucente

rec: Nov 24 - 27, 2014, Jujurieux, Espace culturel C.J. Bonnet
Ambronay - AMY304 (© 2015) (55'19")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score Handel, op. 2

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Admeto (HWV 22) (A languir ed a penar); Amadigi di Gaula (HWV 11) (Ballo di pastori e pastorelle); Ottone, re di Germania (HWV 15) (Ah! tu non sai); Sonata in g minor, op. 2,5 (HWV 390) [2]; Sonata in F (HWV 392); Tolomeo, re d'Egitto (HWV 25) (Torni omai la pace all'alma); Nicola Francesco HAYM (1678-1729): Sonata in d minor, op. 1,1 [1]; Sonata in a minor, op. 1,3 [1]; Sonata in c minor, op. 1,4 [1]

[1] Nicola Francesco Haym, 12 sonate a tre, op. 1, 1703; [2] George Frideric Handel, VI Sonates à deux Violons, deux haubois ou deux Flutes traversieres & Basse Continue, op. 2, [c1733]

Herberto Delgado Gutiérrez, Sara Bagnati, violin; Silvia Serrano Monesterolo, cello; Maximilian Ehrhardt, harp; Jorge López-Escribano, harpsichord, organ

The French label Ambronay regularly releases discs with recordings by young ensembles. This is the result of an European cooperation project under the name eemerging which - according to the booklet - "is the natural continuation of the Young Ensemble Residences developed since 2009 at the Centre culturel de rencontre d'Ambronay". Each year the most promising ensembles are selected and are offered professional training and assistance in building an international career through concerts and promotion. After three years of support the best ensembles have the opportunity to make their first professional recording. The present disc is the result of L'Aura Rilucente being selected.

The ensemble was founded in Milan and made its first appearance in 2011 in Ravenna. Since then it has performed in the fringe and the main programmes of various early music festivals. For their debut disc they have turned to a man who is almost exclusively known as an author of opera librettos: Nicola Francesco Haym. As he cooperated closely with Handel and was the author of several librettos which Handel set to music trio sonatas from his pen are combined with trio sonatas by Handel and three arias from the latter's operas in instrumental arrangements.

Haym was born in Rome into a German-Jewish family. He was educated as a cellist and in this capacity he played on an irregular basis at the court of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni in Rome. The Cardinal commissioned Haym's two only known oratorios which date from 1699 and 1700 respectively. He may also have played at a theatre which brought him in contact with a genre which would play a major role in his career in England. Here he arrived in 1701 in the company of a violinist from Rome who had been invited to England by Wriothesley Russell, 2nd Duke of Bedford. Haym became the duke's master of chamber music. In 1703 and 1704 he published two sets of trio sonatas and a collection of chamber cantatas.

When Italian operas were started to be performed in London Haym acted as cellist in the basso continuo section and also as manager of his wife who was a professional singer. Soon he began to adapt Italian operas, for instance Bononcini's Camilla; these were very successful. This must have encouraged him to concentrate on the adaptation and writing of librettos. He wrote the librettos for several of Handel's most famous operas, such as Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda and Ottone. These were performed between 1722 and 1728; at that time Haym didn't have the time to participate in the performances as a cellist as he was too busy in the capacity of Secretary of the Royal Academy of Music. In this position it was his task to act as stage manager of all the productions.

His activities in the field of opera have almost completely overshadowed his own compositional oeuvre. It is small - part of his output has been lost - but it is interesting to hear whether he has written anything substantial. The liner-notes inform us that the ensemble came across the two books of trio sonatas by Haym in the Royal Library at The Hague in 2012. "The musical style and counterpoint seemed very interesting, and the group was waiting for the opportunity to fit this music into one of its programmes". Later we read that Haym's works "are of high quality and surely deserve revival in the concert hall". Having listened to the three trio sonatas from the op. 1 recorded here I tend to agree. They follow the model of the Corellian sonata da chiesa. They open with an expressive slow movement - the grave from the Sonata in g minor is a particularly beautiful example - which is followed by a fast movement in the form of a fugue. The third movements are in a slow tempo and are very short, hardly more than a transition from the second to the closing movement. The latter is a vivid piece in fast tempo.

At the end of the liner-notes Haym's trio sonatas are called "slightly academic" in comparison to Handel's trio sonatas. I wouldn't have chosen this term as it has rather negative connotations, but I think I know what the performers mean. From Handel's oeuvre we hear two trio sonatas which are clearly more theatrical and include stronger contrasts. That goes especially for the Sonata in g minor whose second movement has a truly operatic character. It is interesting that the ensemble has added arias from three operas. Instrumental adaptations of vocal pieces was quite common at the time, and arias from Handel's operas were particularly popular among arrangers, for instance William Babell. Not all arias fare equally well. 'Torni omai la pace all'alma' from Tolomeo comes off best. It sounds completely natural, as if it was conceived as a movement from a trio sonata.

There are some issues which need to be mentioned. First of all, the arias document the cooperation between Handel and Haym. However, that cooperation was different. Haym wrote the librettos for Tolomeo and Ottone, but was not directly involved in Admeto. The cooperation here was confined to Haym being the stage manager for the production which took place in 1727 at the King's Theatre. The Sonata in F is included in the track-list as op. 2 No 7 but the op. 2 comprises only six sonatas. In the worklist at I haven't found any reference to this sonata as being part of the op. 2. Lastly, the use of a harp is substantiated by referring to Handel's inclusion of the instrument in Giulio Cesare. However, trio sonatas were aimed at the market of amateurs, and it seems unlikely that the harp was widely disseminated among amateurs of those days.

"The group always aims to achieve a vibrant sound, full of energy and pathos, and at the same time to be able to relax the atmosphere and create moments of pure serenity". That is quite some ambition but I am happy to report that this certainly materializes here. I have greatly enjoyed the playing of this ensemble and this disc certainly is an impressive debut. In Haym's trio sonatas they have found the right approach and don't try to do too much. In Handel the theatrical traits come off very well and this way the differences between the two composers are eloquently demonstrated. The adaptations of opera arias are also nicely performed and the programme ends with a ballet which is played with much zest.

It rounds off a disc by an ensemble which should have a bright future.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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