Handel Water Music
The Brook Street Band are a young group of Baroque specialists whose name proclaims their primary allegiance to Handel, sonatas by whom frame their programme here. They bring a delightful freshness and lack of affectation to all these trio sonatas, playing in a vivacious style, with quickish but not hurried tempi, that makes it very clear that they are enjoying themselves.
Their pleasure in the music is infectious. They differentiate nicely between styles: Corelli is done with high dignity and poise, with the first movement of Op 1 No 7 pleasantly conversational and the finale crisply articulated; the more overtly dramatic element in Geminiani, and especially the sentiment of the central Affettuoso movement, is well caught, with some delicate nuance; and the gracefully French accent that Leclair brings to this Italian form is captured in the hints of the plaintive in the Forlane and the Sarabande, the quirkiness in the Gracieusement and the subtle shading of the Gavotte.
As to Handel, there is one item out of the ordinary, the ‘Oxford’ Water Music – no, not written for a party on the Cherwell or the Isis, but a version from an Oxford manuscript apparently originating from Handel himself that presents parts of the Water Music in chamber-music form; here it is edited by Tatty Theo, the cellist and director of the group. This is, I believe, its first complete recording. It’s refreshing to hear the music done in a much lighter and perkier way than it can be in its usual orchestral disposition, especially such movements as the F major minuet (here without the horns for which it was originally composed) and the bourrées.
In the trio sonatas the playing is very alert. The opening of Op 5 No 4 is beautifully springy and in its Passacaille there is a distinct Purcellian flavour to the minore section (though I wish they hadn’t used pizzicato in the minuet, which is out of character); in Op 2 No 4 the opening Andante is nicely poised and the shaping of the Allegro, especially its semiquaver passages, gives the whole a sense of direction. Excellent interplay by the violins, and a shapely bass-line: all very clearly audible in a recording that is perhaps slightly clinical and dry and doesn’t quite allow the harpsichord to come sufficiently through, but happily catches the spirit of the performances.