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Handel Recorder Sonatas - Atlanta Audio Society


05 April 2004
Atlanta Audio Society
Phil Muse

George Frideric Handel composed his six Sonatas for Recorder and Harpsichord in London in 1724-26 during the height of his success as a composer of Italian operas. Why he should take time from his busy schedule in the theatre to compose music for what many might (incorrectly) term a "toy" instrument might at first seem puzzling. But the recorder, an end-blown wooden flute, had been around for centuries and was the instrument of choice among English gentleman amateurs since the time of Samuel Pepys, and so Handel's publication of these works found a ready made audience. Also, the graciously melodic character of the instrument (its name comes from Middle English record, "to sing like the birds") made it an ideal medium for presenting Handel's favorite musical and rhetorical devices, which were as well adapted to home music making as they were the opera house.

The result, which we hear expressed here in euphonious, detailed and beautifully decorated performances by Pamela Thorby, recorder, with Richard Egarr on harpsichord and organ (in the Sonatas in F Major and G Minor), are the essence of pure Handelian charm. If Handel borrowed occasionally from himself in these sonatas (for example, the lovely Aria in the C Major Sonata, taken from an earlier sonata for oboe), he repaid the "theft" by setting the entire Recorder Sonata in F Major as an organ concerto in 1735. The bittersweet loveliness of Handel's slow movements such as the Largo that opens the D Minor Sonata or the more overtly impassioned Larghetto that evokes an operatic heroine lamenting her lover's deceit in the A Minor Sonata is matched by the spirited liveliness of quick movements such as the Furioso in the D Minor and the Presto that concludes the G Minor. The formal dances (Menuet, Gavotte, Gigue) that we encounter in passing in these sonatas are given charming, idiomatic performances.

For a perfect balance, we have Egarr giving a thoughtful, introspective performance of Handel's richly nuanced Harpsichord Suite in E Major in the middle of the program. The sonic quality of the DSD (Direct Stream Digital) recordings heard here on the preset hybrid SACD serve the needs of the music admirably.


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