HANDEL: 12 Solo Sonatas Op.1; Pavlo Beznosiuk (violin)/ Rachel Brown (flute & recorder)/ Frank de Brione (oboe)/ Richard Egarr (harpsichord & direction)/ Academy of Ancient Music – Harmonia mundi (2 CDs) HMU907465-66, 70:46, 76:45 ****:

Opus 1 more often than not alludes to a youthful, if not immature work, but one usually worthy of publication. As Richard Egarr points out in his excellent in the booklet accompanying this release, Bach’s 6 Partitas for keyboard were published as Op.1 in stages from 1726 when Bach was already 41.

Handel’s instrumental and orchestral works have amongst them some very low opus numbers: Concerti Grossi Op.3 and Op.6, Trio Sonatas Op.2 and Op.5, Organ Concertos Op.4 and Op.7, and lovers of those works will find much to enjoy in this set of Op.1.

Egarr has done considerable digging around to ascertain authenticity of these sonatas. Handel was born in Halle in 1685, moved to Hamburg in 1704, where his first two operas were produced, travelled to Italy from 1706 to 1709 where he wrote further operas and cantatas. He became Kapellmeister to the future King George 1 in 1710 and settled in London in 1712, aged 27. Many of the sonatas here date from 1712 to before 1722 as an edition was published in Amsterdam by Roger who ceased to exist in 1722. Walsh of London published a set of 12 in 1732 with the note “This is more correct than the former edition”, though sonatas 10 and 12 are different pieces of music, as are some movements in other sonatas. Curiously the Walsh edition uses the same plates as the Roger edition made in Amsterdam ten years previously.

This set, then, contains all the sonatas in Walsh’s 1732 edition; in addition we get the alternate Sonatas 10 and 12, and a version of Sonata 5 for oboe. As Egarr makes clear, too, the sonatas are meant to be performed with continuo of harpsichord or bass viol, but not both, and he adopts the former.  The recordings were made in September 2007 in the now well-known Potton Hall in Suffolk, after a series of concerts some of which took place at the Handel House, London.

All the performers are members of the Academy of Ancient Music. The violin sonatas, played by Pavlo Beznosiuk on a violin made in 1676 in Antwerp by Hofmans, are well-known and popular with violin students. The tone is bright, ornamentation sounds natural rather than over-contrived and the harpsichord is well-balanced allowing much detail to shine through. The oboe of Frank de Brione, after one by Stanesby in 1732, makes a wonderful sound, mellow and rich. Rachel Brown’s flute also makes a lovely sound; this is a one-keyed instrument by Martin Wenner after one dating from Handel’s lifetime, and her liquid tones are a delight to hear. Her recorder, also by Wenner after one by the younger Stanesby produces a width of tone providing an interesting variety of sounds.

All this authenticity is coupled to performances brimful of life; the minuets dance as they should and lightly, the slow movements are touching and the quick ones bound along with vivaciousness. It was interesting to compare the approach to the playing of these sonatas here with those by Alfredo Campoli, violin and George Malcolm, harpsichord on Testament SBT1358, a mono recording made in the mid-1950s, still sounding quite well, and although less interesting than Beznosiuk, worth seeking out, too.

The recording quality is pretty good; there is plenty of air round the sound though some may feel there is a little too much. The two generously filled CDs are under full price and are highly recommended particularly to those who have already discovered some of the other low opus number works described above. “Somewhat neglected children….?” There is rather less chance of that now with the release of these excellent CDs.

Contents:

Sonata in F major for violin and continuo, HWV370, Op. 1 No. 12

Sonata in E minor for flute and continuo, HWV359b, Op. 1 No. 1b

Sonata in G minor for recorder and continuo, HWV360, Op. 1 No. 2

Sonata in A Major for violin and continuo, HWV361, Op. 1 No. 3

Sonata in A minor for recorder and continuo, HWV362, Op. 1 No. 4

Sonata in G major for flute and continuo, HWV363b, Op 1 No 5

Sonata in G minor for violin or oboe and continuo, HWV364a, Op. 1 No. 6

Sonata in C major for recorder and continuo, HWV365, Op. 1 No. 7

Sonata in C minor for oboe and continuo, HWV366, Op. 1 No. 8

Flute Sonata in B minor, Op 1 No 9b, HWV367b

Sonata in G minor for violin and continuo, HWV368, Op. 1 No. 10

Sonata in F major for recorder and continuo, HWV369, Op. 1 No. 11

Sonata in A major for violin and continuo, HWV372, Op. 1 No. 14

Oboe Sonata in F major (manuscript) ‘Haub: Solo del Sr. Hendel’

Sonata in E major for violin and continuo, HWV373, Op. 1 No. 15

— Peter Joelson