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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759): "Händel Tribute"


rec: Nov 2018, Granada (ES), Auditorio Manuel De Falla
IBS Classical - IBS162019 (© 2019) (58'55")
Liner-notes: E/ES
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata in D (HWV 371); Sonata in d minor (HWV 359a); Sonata in b minor, op. 2,1 (HWV 386b); Sonata in F, op. 2,4 (HWV 389); Sonata in A, op. 5,1 (HWV 396); Sonata in D, op. 5,2 (HWV 397)

Laura Quesada, transverse flute; Vicctor Martínez, violin; Carla Sanfélix, cello; Asís Márquez, harpsichord
with: Ramiro Morales, plucked string

George Frideric Handel has left a pretty large corpus of chamber music, consisting of sonatas for a solo instrument and basso continuo and trio sonatas. The catalogue of his works lists around 60 pieces of this kind. However, a number of them have been preserved in several versions. It has kept Handel scholars busy to sort out which of the sonatas that were printed under Handel's name, were indeed from his pen or whether the scoring was in line with his intentions. It was especially the rather unscrupulous music printer John Walsh, who explored Handel's popularity for the publication of sonatas which were suited to be performed by a wide range of amateurs, and therefore indicated that they could be played on almost every instrument. The fact that Handel often reused existing material only added to the confusion. Two movements from one of his recorder sonaas, for instance, also appear in a sonata for transverse flute.

The main source for Handel's solo sonatas is a collection of twelve which was published as his Op. 1. However, there are two collections with that opus number. The first was published between 1726 and 1732 by Jeanne Roger, the Amsterdam music printer. That is to say, that is what John Walsh wanted his clients to believe. In fact, he himself was the publisher. In 1732 he printed another Op. 1, which included ten of the sonatas from the 'Roger' edition, and two new items. Further sonatas have been preserved in manuscript, and some of them are of doubtful authenticity. Therefore performers need to be aware of what they are performing or recording. Obviously, the fact that some sonatas may not be of Handel's pen does not compromise their quality, but they should not be presented as compositions by Handel.

The present disc includes two solo sonatas. The Sonata in d minor is for violin and basso continuo, but has also come down to us in a version for transverse flute in e minor (HWV 379). This was the first sonata in both Op. 1 editions, and it is generally assumed that the scoring for violin was in line with Handel's intentions. It follows the model of Corelli's sonate da chiesa in its number and order of movements. It dates from around 1724. The Sonata in D (HWV 371) is a late work and is considered Handel's last chamber music composition, dating from 1749/50. There is a connection with the other solo sonata: the opening of the first movement also appears in the third movement of the flute version of this sonata, the above-mentioned HWV 379. The liner-notes mention that this sonata has been preserved in an autograph, but there is no reference to that in other sources that I consulted. However, it is mentioned that it was intended as a violin sonata. Here it is played at the transverse flute. This is undoubtedly the reason that the track-list does not call it a 'flute sonata'. Basically there is little objection to performing a Handel sonata on a different instrument. This was common practice at the time.

The trio sonatas are taken from the only two collections that were published in Handel's lifetime, as his Op. 2 and Op. 5 respectively. In the case of the Op. 2, Walsh used the same trick as with the Op. 1: he printed them under the name of Roger, and made sure the publication was riddled with errors in order to infuriate Handel in such a way that he was only too happy to allow Walsh to publish an 'authorised' edition. This then came from the press in 1733. The majority of the movements also turns up in another context, especially the Chandos Anthems and organ concertos as well as some of the oratorios. Because of that it seems likely that this collection of sonatas is a kind of compilation of pieces from different stages in Handel's career, although the majority probably dates from around 1720. The second set of trio sonatas was published in 1739. Among the sources are again the Chandos Anthems, but also various operas (for instance Arianna in Creta, Ezio, Radamisto) and keyboard music. There is a difference between the two sets: the Op. 2 sonatas are modelled after Corelli's sonata da chiesa, whereas the Op. 5 is loosely based on the sonata da camera and includes various dances.

In the case of the trio sonatas performers have to deal once again with the issue of the scoring. In order to increase sales, Walsh added "Flutes, or Hoboys" as alternatives to the violins for the two upper parts of the sonatas Op. 2. However, it seems that only in the first sonata Handel himself intended the first part to be played on the transverse flute. The fourth sonata also mentions the transverse flute for the first part. These are the sonatas played on transverse flute and violin here. The title of Op. 5 gives transverse flutes as alternatives to violins. As far as I can remember I have heard them only in performances with two violins. From that perspective the performance of the sonatas No. 1 and No. 2 here with transverse flute and violin is an interesting alternative to what seems to be common performance practice these days.

I have to confess that I was sceptical at first about this disc: another recording of those sonatas by Handel that are already available in so many performances. However, while listening, I became more and more impressed by what these young artists have to offer here. In the liner-notes, much attention is payed to the rhetorical character of baroque music and its performance as well as the important role of affetti. The performers have succeeded very well in putting that into practice. There are strong contrasts between slow and fast movements. The players are not afraid to play really slow and really fast. Only the andante which opens the Sonata in A, op. 5,1, could have been performed a little faster. These performances are really speechlike, thanks to a very good articulation and an effective contrast between good and bad notes. I also like the dynamic shading on long notes. In the slow movements these performances are very expressive, whereas the fast ones are energetic. In some pieces the performers let their hair down, such as in the Sonata in D, op. 5,2, especially the last three movements, and in the closing movements of the above-mentioned Sonata in A.

This ensemble, founded in 2017, has won several prizes at some important contests. I can understand that. This is their debut disc, and it is a very fine one. Laura Quesada, Victor Martínez, Carla Sanfélix and Asís Márquez, who are joined here by Ramiro Morales, have something to tell. This is an ensemble to keep an eye on, and this disc is an excellent demonstration of their skills.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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