Handel: Trio Sonatas

Handel: Trio Sonatas
The Brook Street Band
Avie AV2357. 76’10

Sinfonia in B flat HWV 339; Trio Sonatas in F HWV 392, B flat HWV 50a ‘Esther’, G minor HWV 393; in E HWV 394; C minor HWV 386a; C HWV 403 ‘Saul’.

Trio Sonatas for Two Violins and Basso ContinuoThe Brook Street Band, named after the London street where Handel lived for the last 36 years of his life, celebrate their 20th anniversary this year. As well as his well known Opus 2 and 5 sets of Trio Sonatas, Handel left a number of isolated examples of the genre, three of them normally referred to as the ‘Dresden’ sonatas where the manuscript is housed. To these three (HWV 392-4), are added two other proper trio sonatas (386a and 403) and two other pieces arranged by the Brook Street Band in a trio sonata format, the early Sinfonia and an early version of the overture to Esther, both of which helpfully lack an viola part. Many of the movements are examples of Handel’s re-use of material, and there are a number of familiar melodies that crop up with an otherwise lesser known group of pieces. Notable amongst these is track 21, the Andante from HWV 386a, better known as one of the most gorgeous arias in Agrippina.

The final Sonata, in C (HWV 403) is an interesting work composed it seems at the same time as, and sharing material with, the oratorio Saul. It is initially a bit a shock to hear the normally bombastic overture playing with such a diminutive forces. It doesn’t seem to have been a post-production attempt to bring the music to a wider, domestic, paying public, and raises questions about how or why it came about. The sonatas are presented in chronological order, as far as can be ascertained, which is something I always find useful and try to do in my own organ recitals.

Despite the enormous quantity of Handel’s music that survives and is recorded, this is a useful addition to the recorded repertoire. The members of The Brook Street Band are Rachel Harris and Farran Scott, violins, Tatty Theo, cello, and Carolyn Gibley, harpsichord. They play with vigour and panache, generally keeping to a solid rhythmic pulse but incorporating a subtle flexibility within the beat. The recorded sound is slightly top-heavy, but I quickly got used to that as the music continued. It was recorded in a church, giving an attractive bloom to the acoustic, but without overpowering it, as can be the case.

Corrected: 20th, Gibley.

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