HANDEL: Sonatas for Recorder and Harpsichord – Heiko ter Schegget, recorder/ Zvi Meniker, harpsichord – MDG

by | Jun 28, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

HANDEL: Sonatas for Recorder and Harpsichord – Heiko ter Schegget, recorder/ Zvi Meniker, harpsichord – MDG Multichannel SACD 905 1564-6, 63:45 ****: [Distr. by Koch]

Early in his career, Handel, under the not-too stringent requirements of his patrons, and well before his fecund period of opera writing began, wrote a lot instrumental music. These works are perhaps the most “German” of his entire career, offering him a chance to glory in the strictest counterpoint and richest environment for embellishments. These six sonatas, many of the melodies quite famous, and from which the composer would continue to draw upon his entire life, represent some of the sparkling jewels in the Handelian crown. Tightly woven, melodically expansive, and emotionally varied, one can see even in these early works the penchant for dramatic genius that was to bloom only a few years later.

It has always been one of the mysteries of Handel how he achieved such wondrously beautiful and moving music with such an economy of means. For instance, one only has to look at the scores to any of his organ concertos and be amazed at how simple they are versus how profoundly moving the music is. He had discovered, early on, freshly in London with a few operatic successes behind him and a penchant for good times and good port, the secret of making use of all the basic tools of counterpoint, especially the sequence, in order to strike the chill buttons of people’s spines. The recorder works are almost Schubertian in the way that the exact twist of melody causes so much to happen, and how the brilliance of his bass lines can almost function independently as melodies of their own. This is writing that serves as a primer in counterpoint for any age, though one must concede that the writing of a melody is strictly a function of genius.

I have had a perverse attraction to the RCA disc by Keith Jarrett and Michala Petri for some time now. This unusual combination of artists provides a wonderful and very fresh take on these sonatas, though with quite a bit of ornamentation, even though the notes to that release specify that both performers tried to avoid overdoing it. Well, that was 1991 and times were different. This new release, in wonderful surround sound, does sacrifice some of the detail of the RCA, but the performing stage is far more natural, the recorder not spotlighted at all, and with plenty of air around both instruments. The ornamentation is also toned down quite a bit in keeping with current practice, but what is there is done tastefully and thoughtfully. There are 30-odd recordings of this music currently available, so to do a blow-by-blow comparison is not feasible, nor is the idea of choosing a “best” very practical. Suffice it to say that this disc is as good as any I have heard, and an easy recommendation, though in this market it’s tough to go wrong.

— Steven Ritter

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