Handel: Violin Sonatas, HWV 358, 359a, 361, 364a, 370 371, 372

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Violin Sonatas, HWV 358, 359a, 361, 364a, 370 371, 372
PERFORMER: Hiro Kurosaki (violin), William Christie (harpsichord, organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 45554 2
Handel’s ‘violin sonatas’ are variously authentic, doubtful, spurious – and not even all for violin. Here, five undisputed sonatas and two doubtful ones are given thoroughly spirited and stylish performances. With no additional bass-line instrument, the violin, keyboard bass-line and harmonic ‘realisation’ create an effective three-way balance. Christie imitates and echoes violin motifs and matches its power with weighty left-hand octaves. His choice of organ for two of the sonatas expands the colours still further.

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The expressive range of Hiro Kurosaki – leader of Les Arts Florissants – is formidable: he bedecks the opening of the G major Sonata (HWV 358) with fistfuls of ornaments (and treats us to the curious ultra-high notes with which Handel inexplicably ended the last movement). His violin positively barks out the opening chords of the final Allegro of HWV 371 (D major), scurries through the gigue which ends HWV 364a, then pours out a seamless strand of melody at the start of the (questionable) F major, HWV 370. Occasionally rhetorical passion conflicts with musical impetus: in that same D major movement, Kurosaki imbues successive phrases with characters so contrasting that they disturb the underlying pulse.

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My benchmark performers, Manze and Egarr, embrace without flinching the improvisatory spirit of the Baroque – spontaneous melodic decoration, rhetorical gestures, extempore harmonic infilling. They live dangerously, exaggerating to the limit, alive to every detail, yet never losing the overview. But sooner or later, the very fact that this spontaneity is frozen in recording – only the listener remains the variable in the equation – will probably lead me to the timeless authority of Kurosaki and Christie. George Pratt