HANDEL Violin Sonatas (Brook Street Band)
It’s funny what knots scholarliness can get us tangled into when it comes to authenticity. I say this in the light of the fact that, out of the nine sonatas presented on this excellent disc, only five of them are supported by the existence of an autograph manuscript: that’s the sonatas in G, HWV358; D minor, HWV359a; A, HWV361; G minor, HWV364a; and D, HWV371. The other four, although they were published under Handel’s name during his lifetime and sound very much like Handel, are still technically ‘spurious’ because no autograph manuscripts have come down to us. Surely, though, as spurious works go, these are on the lower end of the scale.
I’m very glad therefore that The Brook Street Band have given us all nine, and all the more so given the life with which they’ve imbued them. HWV358 earns its disc-opening status by being the earliest of the sonatas (probably composed somewhere between 1707 and 1710, making it the set’s only Italian-period sonata), but also by the sheer joyful energy with which Rachel Harris goes for its first Allegro’s continuous stream of jumping violin semiquaver figures, as Tatty Theo elegantly bounds along next to her on the cello. The opulent harpsichord trills with which Carolyn Gibley begins the Adagio are another treat. Then, perhaps most of all, I love the way Harris deals, in the final Allegro, with the comically high tessitura on the penultimate bar’s second beat; because while the first time around she makes so little of it that you could miss it entirely, on the repeat it’s thoroughly unmissable, delivered with a pronounced, oh-so-wispily-elegant wink.
Indeed the various ornamentation, articulation and repeat decisions have come off brilliantly. Take the (spurious!) F major’s central Allegro, where they’ve opted to repeat only the first half and then in the second half played it straight ornamentations-wise until the minor interlude 19 bars in, while all the way through offering a feast of constantly shifting note widths and weights. You simply don’t know what’s coming next, which I mean in the best possible way. Bravo!