HANDEL Recorder Sonatas (Stefan Temmingh)
It’s a happy sight to see Stefan Temmingh follow up last year’s excellent album of Vivaldi and Bach recorder concertos with the Capricornus Consort Basel (2/18) by turning his attention to one of the chamber jewels of the recorder literature.
Handel’s six recorder sonatas present a very different challenge to the virtuosity of Bach and Vivaldi. Here, the performers have to project simple lyric beauty: long, aria-like lines which effectively cast the recorder player as a singer. In fact it’s the harpsichordist who gets most of the florid acrobatics, the textures often thick enough to suggest an orchestral sound (indeed, one of the set’s delights is its borrowings from Handel’s opera arias and the concerti grossi), most likely because these sonatas weren’t written primarily for recorder display at all but instead for the harpsichord lessons of Princess Anne.
With that in mind, Temmingh and Weidanz have decided to stick to recorder and harpsichord alone: a choice that’s divided the major players over the years, with fellow members of the no-cello camp including Pamela Thorby, Michala Petri (whose clean, bright sound I particularly enjoy in this repertoire) and Eric Bosgraaf, and the cello fans including Dan Laurin and Marion Verbruggen. Note also that this means no switches to organ accompaniment to shake the timbres up a bit.
What has truly shaken things up is the decision to precede each of the sonatas with a small prelude. The ones for harpsichord are by Handel himself but the recorder ones throw up a couple of fabulously idiomatic pinchings: an anonymous fantaisie from the Charles Babel collection leads into the B flat major Sonata, and Purcell’s Prelude in B minor, ZN773, joins the D minor Sonata; then we hear a 24 second improvisation before the F major Sonata. I love the results, in terms of both the contents and how seamlessly and naturally each prelude rolls into its sonata first movement. Indeed, the naturalness of the playing across the set, aided by both artists’ decision not to write out their ornamentations in advance, is one its chief glories.
With such a palpable rapport between the two musicians, this is a disc thoroughly worthy of your time.