Monday, May 3, 2010

Handel on eMusic: Sonatas


Trio sonatas

Trio sonatas, op.2. Sonnerie/Monica Huggett [Avie] 25.

A Recording of the Month for MusicWeb: "This recording by Sonnerie demonstrates how to play baroque music". Also scored a maximum 10 from "There have been several recordings of Opus 2 on period instruments, most notably by London Baroque (Harmonia Mundi) and L’Ecole d’Orphée (CRD, reissued on Brilliant Classics). London Baroque’s performances are technically dazzling, but cool and detached from the music’s rhetorical and sentimental potential. L’Ecole d’Orphée, featuring the finest players of the booming English early music movement of the 1980s, recorded all of Handel’s chamber music to the highest standard, and their work remains essential. Nevertheless, Sonnerie’s vibrant new recording of Opus 2, their debut on the Avie label, has revealed these sonatas afresh". Gramophone said "Some listeners may feel that these finely modulated performances lack the energy and freshness that ideally belong to the music, but there is a great deal to compensate for that and you won’t often hear this music more attentively, more lovingly played." It got *** from the Penguin Guide.

Trio sonatas, op.2. L'Ecole d'Orphée [CRD] 6.

Trio sonatas, op.5. L'Ecole d'Orphée [CRD] 7.

Trio sonatas for 2 violins and basso continuo, HWV338, 392-4, 403, and op.2/1a. L'Ecole d'Orphée [CRD] 6.

These 3 are part of a 6-disc set of Handel's chamber music that is also available from Brilliant Classics. One MusicWeb reviewer said "I cannot recommend this set too highly. At super budget price the discs are recommendable both to dedicated Handelians and to everyone else" (of course, they're "super budget" on eMusic too, given that each sonata is only 1 track!), while another said "It is a pity that the tracking on these discs is rather mean" (well...) but "I have found the set to be most enjoyable throughout with no really weak or ‘naff’ sonatas or movements. I recommend this set to you with every confidence". Two reviewers on each gave it an 8; one said "Despite some dryness in John Holloway’s playing, the whole interpretation is particularly stylish and refined... they should form an essential part of every Handelian's collection", and the other concurred: "There are other fine recordings of this repertoire available separately, especially the accounts of Opus 2 and Opus 5 by London Baroque on Harmonia Mundi (France). Nevertheless, these performances by L’Ecole d’Orphée should form an essential part of every Handelian’s audio library". In a review of the full CRD issue on CD, Gramophone's reviewer said "The recordings were made over a five-year period between 1981 and 1985 and were for the most part enthusiastically reviewed by SS [Stanley Sadie], the late Roger Fiske and myself. Listening to them now I find my enthusiasm in no sense dulled while at the same time being made aware on occasion of refinements which have taken place in periodinstrument playing between then and now... In summary, this is a notable achievement which few Handelians will be able to resist". The Penguin Guide gave the collected set **(*) and gave this score also to volumes 2-4 individually; the flute sonatas and recorder sonatas both got ***. Although they don't say so explicitly, it's likely that the lack of separate tracking for individual movements was a factor in marking down the score - it's described as "the one great snag".

Trio sonatas, op.5. London Baroque [Harmonia Mundi] 38.

Gramophone's reviewer said "The performances are poised, refined and susceptible to many subtle nuances in the part writing... these are two delightful recordings [op.2, not on emusic, was also reviewed] which supplant in my affection those made in the 1980s for CRD by L'Ecole d'Orphée".

Trio sonatas, op.5. Brook Street Band [Avie] 34.

Gramophone: "the Brook Street Band take the listener on a rollercoaster that takes in all the thrills yet never sacrifices Handel’s sincerity". Fanfare: "By virtue of its energetic and infectious performances of literature perhaps less frequently recorded than performed, Avie’s collection should appeal to all sorts of listeners and collectors. Warmly recommended". MusicWeb: "As with everything they do there are no half measures. I find them intoxicating, sometimes quixotic, but always entertaining guides to the repertoire".

"The Unknown Handel" - various works - HWV 399,404,288,287,339,390b, and a Concerto a quattro. Musica ad Rhenum/Jed Wentz [Challenge] 26. gave it a 7: "an interesting disc worthy of praise". The Concerto a quattro is of dubious authenticity.

Solo sonatas

Flute sonatas. L'Ecole d'Orphée [CRD] 8.

Oboe sonatas; Violin sonatas. L'Ecole d'Orphée [CRD] 9.

Recorder sonatas. L'Ecole d'Orphée [CRD] 8.

These 3 are part of a 6-disc set of Handel's chamber music that is also available from Brilliant Classics. See above under Trio sonatas for reviews of the full set.

Flute sonatas. Jed Wentz; Musica ad Rhenum [Challenge] 38.

No reviews found.

Flute sonatas. Paula Robison; Kenneth Cooper; Timothy Eddy [Vanguard] 45.

Penguin guide gave it **(*) - "These performances are stylish and pleasing, and the 1978 recording is well balanced". Classics Today gave it 10/9, saying "This is a very welcome reissue and warmly recommended especially to those who've treasured these performances on LP but perhaps have forgotten just how good they are".

Flute sonatas. Ensemble Fitzwilliam [Zig-Zag Territoires] 31.

No reviews found.

Flute sonatas. Peter-Lukas Graf; Manfred Sax; Jorg Ewald Dahler [Claves] 7.

No reviews found.

Flute sonatas and Violin sonatas - various. Aurele Nicolet; Ryo Terakado; Josef Suk; etc [Metro (Union Square)] 35.

No reviews found.

Recorder sonatas. Dan Laurin; Hidemi Suzuki; Masaaki Suzuki [BIS] 27.

4-4 from BBC Music, and 10-10-10 (full marks) from KlassikHeute. It got a 9 from "the closest competition is Marion Verbruggen’s recital ... That disc is energetic, and each sonata is fine if you listen to it individually, but over the course of an hour, the overall impression is too spiky and abrasive. As an entire recital worth hearing in one session, I much prefer Dan Laurin’s softer and more affectionate treatment of the music". Gramophone says the disc "can be safely recommended". Penguin Guide gave it ***.

Recorder sonatas. Clas Pehrsson; Bengt Ericson; Thomas Schuback [BIS] 27.

Gramophone said "I enjoyed their playing a good deal for its musicianship... the occasional flaw or the effect that does not quite come off represent a price I am happy to pay for the musical freshness that is very much in evidence".

Recorder sonatas. Marion Verbruggen; Ton Koopman; Jaap ter Linden [Harmonia Mundi] 27.

Gramophone called these "very lively and musically intelligent performances... Verbruggen has a real command of Handel’s language". BBC Music gave it 5-4: "persuasive tempi that allow the music to flow with a graceful facility". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "the sounds here are appealingly mellow".

Recorder sonatas. Peter van Heyghen; Kris Verhelst [Accent] 31.

Got 4-3 from BBC Music: "his tone is clearly focused, he plays with a direct attack and rarely loiters. Verhelst is an inventive harpsichordist, and together they push tempos to an exciting pace. They produce a purer, yet for me less-enticing vibrancy than Laurin and co". Gramophone said "van Heyghen's playing, for all its accomplishment, is rather on the straight side... Basically good performances then, but something more than that is needed". Klassik-heute gave it 10-8-8 (artistic quality, sound, overall impression).

Recorder sonatas, with additional "preludes". Il Vero Modo (Sven Schwannberger, Thomas Leininger) [Thorofon] 33.

A thumbs-up from MusicWeb, which noted "the use of two different recorders and a voice-flute introduces a degree of variety to the playing... Unless you particularly prefer one of [the alternatives], I see no reason not to go for the present CD". Details of which piece is which can be found with that review. American Record Guide said "Musically, these are superb performances", although the reviewer was put off by "the cloud of smugness" emanating from the liner notes and the presence of the preludes, which are original compositions or improvisations; he recommends Laurin (BIS), Verbruggen (Harmonia Mundi), or L'Ecole d'Orphee (CRD).

Recorder sonatas, plus Harpsichord suite in E ('Harmonious Blacksmith'). Pamela Thorby; Richard Egarr [Linn] 31.

An 8 from, which nevertheless said it does not "match the superb musicality of Dan Laurin’s recording on BIS". Classics Today France gave it 7/7.

Recorder sonatas and other works. László Cidra; Zsolt Harsányi; Zsuzsa Pertis; Pál Kelemen [Naxos] 26.

Penguin Guide gave it *** - "A particularly attractive and generous anthology... their accounts of the sonatas from Op.1 and the Trio Sonata (for two recorders and continuo) are second to none. The encores (for various combinations) are most engaging".

Violin sonatas. Andrew Manze; Richard Egarr [Harmonia Mundi] 33.

An Editor's Choice from Gramophone, and 10-8-10 from Klassik Heute. One Fanfare reviewer said "Manze's collaboration with Egarr in these works rises to the level of the great recorded partnerships. Recommended without qualification", but another didn't like Manze's playing: "The acidic harshness of his tone is to my ears rébarbative in the extreme, and it is exacerbated by the kind of tidal ebb and flow of sound that makes me seasick, and by a persistent refusal to shape the musical line with due regard to the functions of the notes they comprise". Classics Today gave it 9/6, and BBC Music gave it 4-5 (and said this recording has the edge on the L'Ecole d'Orphée recording mentioned above). Penguin Guide gave it *** and said "Anyone looking for a complete set of Handel's Violin Sonatas on period instruments need look no further".

Violin sonatas. Rachel Barton; David Schrader; John Mark Rozendaal [Cedille] 33.

A 6 from "the refined and rather polite interpretations tend to be too even and smoothly superficial". Although the Fanfare review is not online, the review of the Andrew Manze recording mentioned "Barton's sparkling Cedille disc... enthusiastically reviewed by Robert Maxham" and later described it as a "very competitive version".

"Trios, Sonatas and Concerti for Diverse Instruments" - 2 Concerti a quattro; Trio sonatas nos.2 & 5; Flute sonata op.1/5; Viola da gamba sonata, op.1/6; Trio sonata op.5/3; Viola da gamba sonata in C. Aulos Ensemble [MusicMasters] 34.

The 1980 Grove describes all but the 3 pieces with opus numbers as spurious or of doubtful attribution; the 2 trio sonatas are from a set of 6 supposedly representing Handel's earliest known compositions. No reviews found.

Cello sonatas. Brook Street Band [Avie] 27.

Wait a second, Handel didn't write any cello sonatas! These are actually transcriptions of 6 recorder sonatas (5 from op.1; the other is the sonata HWV377). They're "totally convincing", according to Gramophone: "Baroque cellists, rush for these arrangements – it’s your lucky day!" BBC Music gave it 4 for performance, 5 for sound: "the instrumentation often sounds so idiomatic and tonally apposite that we might almost feel entitled to assume Handel’s approbation of these versions". Fanfare: "I can’t imagine anyone disliking this CD, unless they are opposed, in principle, to its underlying concept". MusicWeb: "a nice little set which will grow on you as you enter into the spirit of it". American Record Guide: "I'm not a transcription fan, ordinarily, but I must say, hearing these often familiar tunes played on cello makes me wish he had given it a shot".

Miscellaneous other chamber works (all right, this isn't actually a category in Grove)

"Oxford" Water Music and other works by Handel and other composers. Brook Street Band [Avie] 29.

The "Oxford" Water Music is a chamber version of some of the pieces, possibly done by Handel himself. gives the album an 8 out of 10, and it was a Gramophone Editor's Choice in February 2004. One Fanfare reviewer called it "a presentation that is expectedly light, undeniably stylish, and void of being fussy or overly precious", while another called it "a charmer... a thoroughly enjoyable program of Baroque masters disporting themselves in the lighter vein, but still with arresting melodic invention and characteristically polished workmanship". And it was a Recording of the Month for MusicWeb in December 2003: "It is a tremendous pleasure to be a reviewer when a disk like this comes along, as it does only a couple of times a year. Just to be able to listen from the first note to the last with all critical analyses beguiled, to be able to relax and enjoy while the performers and engineers do everything right".

"Water Musik: Sonaten und Suiten". Trio Passaggio [Antes/Bella Musica] 34.

These are arrangements made by the performers themselves. Klassik Heute gives it 6-8-6 and says (via Babelfish!) of the arrangements "Whether this in individual cases always succeeded, is undecided".

Music arranged for 2 guitars, plus D Scarlatti. Katona Twins [Channel] 17.

In a short review, Gramophone said "Forget about guitars, just buy this disc for the musical delight it offers — and waste no time in doing so".

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