Handel: Trio Sonatas, Opp. 2 & 5

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Trio Sonatas, Opp. 2 & 5
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music/ Richard Egarr
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907467-8

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Although Handel’s trio sonatas were advertised as ‘for two German [transverse] Flutes or Violins…’, with the further option of two ‘Haubois’ in Op. 2, the range of the lower parts at least largely precludes the wind instruments – the exaggerated advert was simply to sell more copies.

Apart from flute in Op. 2 No. 1 and recorder in Op. 2 No. 4, the recording here is limited to strings throughout, and a minimalist spirit characterises the performance – intimate, restrained, sparing with ornaments. All the more striking, then, that the subtleties and nuances of the playing, coupled with the sheer variety of Handel’s fertile imagination, never pales during over two hours of continuous listening.

The Op. 2 are the more reserved – four-movement church sonatas with no named dance movements despite the irrepressible gigue ending No. 6. They include movements steeped in drama; the heavenly ‘sleep aria’ Largo of No. 1, a love duet opening No. 2, suspension climbing above suspension between the solo violins.

The seven sonatas of Op. 5 are strangely undervalued. Richard Egarr suggests that they are ‘music to be played, not X-rayed and analysed’ and their dance movements in particular are irresistible: the dreamy drone of a Musette alternating with a bounding rustic allegro in No. 2; a gentle Sarabande, perfectly formed in all its simplicity in No. 3; a fine, inventive ‘Passacaille’ in No. 4, the longest movement of all 37 in the set.

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These are outstanding accounts with impeccable intonation and consistently warm tone at every dynamic level, and excellent balance across a wide stereo spectrum. George Pratt