Handel: 12 Solo Sonatas, Op.1

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: 12 Solo Sonatas, Op.1
PERFORMER: Rachel Brown (flute, recorder), Frank de Bruine (oboe), Pavlo Beznosiuk (violin), Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907465-66

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As Handel’s Op. 1 sonatas are variously for flute, recorder, violin and oboe, they have tended to be cherry-picked for single-instrument recital discs. The resources of the Academy of Ancient Music allow Richard Egarr to bring together all 14 of them, together with an oboe transposition of a flute sonata. The publishing history is fascinating, Walsh of London seemingly posing first as an Amsterdam publisher – Egarr’s notes explain the chicanery.

The soloists here are stylish and imaginative. Decorations are a delight in slow movements; the Adagio from No. 8 (oboe) is positively dripping with them. The playing is highly expressive; Rachel Brown opens the Largo of No. 9, the weightiest of all the sonatas, with heart-rending pathos. Fast movements are so technically secure that they retain a sense of spaciousness, though there are sparkling moments of virtuosity.

Using just two performers at a time, soloist and harpsichord with no added bass instrument, simplifies the lines of communication within the ensemble, and allows a striking sense of spontaneity – the flexing pulse in the first Allegro of No. 8 for oboe, the hemiola cross-rhythms in the second movement of No. 7 for recorder. Egarr works his magic in the keyboard realisations, finding a remarkable range of colours and textures, while never threatening the primacy of the soloist.

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Recorded sound is good, particularly in the balance of flute/recorder with harpsichord. Highly commended as both the complete Op. 1 package and as deeply satisfying performances. George Pratt