Handel: To all lovers of Musick Sonatas op. 5

Al Ayre Español, Eduardo López Banzo
76:34
Challenge Classics CC72663

This is an extraordinary disc! Handel’s op. 5 trio sonatas are rarely recorded, and have often been dismissed as mere re-arrangements of existing orchestral and other material, comparing unfavourably with the ‘real’ sonatas of op. 2, etc. In these terrific performances, they come across as rich and amazingly emotionally powerful works, on a level with the almost-contemporary op. 6 Grand Concerti. It is fascinating to hear how Handel develops and modifies his ‘first thoughts’ – try the opening Largo of no. 5, for example, which began life in 1724 as the short sinfonia at the start of Act 1 of Tamerlano, where Bajazet ‘steps Forth form his Prison’. Here, it is expanded into a full sonata movement, with the arresting thematic tags richly reworked, all held together by Handel’s unerring sense of musical shape.

López Banzo is especially good at capturing the dramatic rhetoric which underlies so much of this music. He is not afraid of sharply contrasted dynamics and tempi, and modifies his continuo team to suit – I especially enjoyed the magically hushed Musette (from Alcina) in No. 2, with its lively Allegro episodes, and the similarly splendid Passacaille of no. 4 (Radamisto, this time!). The sheer range of instrumental colour that Al Ayre Español manages to pack in had me reaching for the booklet on more than one occasion to check that there were indeed still only six players! Javier Marin López’s excellent sleeve notes explain the dramatic origins of much of the music and the circumstances around its publishing. Highly recommended!

Alastair Harper