Handel: Trio sonatas for two violins and basso continuo

The Brook Street Band
76:10
Avie AV2357
HWV339, 386a, 392–394, 403 + “Esther”

An absolute cracker of a disc! The Brook Street Band have here assembled a selection of ‘additional’ trio sonatas, unpublished in Handel’s lifetime, ranging in date from his early years in Hamburg to the late 1730’s in London. They give a fascinating picture of the development of his musical style, from his tremendously energetic and harmonically adventurous youth, to the suave and seemingly effortless structures of his maturity. I particularly enjoyed the opening ‘Sinfonia’ (only published in 1979), with its echoes of Almira  in the extended hectic first movement, followed by a noble Adagio, with the violins dissonantly duetting over an ostinato bass, and finishing with a lively gigue-like Allegro. Turning then to the closing Saul  sonata, one hears how the early harmonic and rhythmic angularities are smoothed into pithy, closely argued and yet crystal-clear formal perfection. On the way, there are (as often with Handel) glimpses of many other works – the cadential figure of the opening movement of HWV 392 has an uncanny resemblance to that of ‘Where’er you walk’, for example.

The Brook Street Band have the full measure of this splendid music. Their tuning is spot-on, allowing searing dissonance to resolve into honeyed thirds, they enjoy to the full Handel’s rhythmic exuberance (e. g., the playful fugal second movement of HWV 392), and they provide an immense range of appropriate tonal colour. Additionally, and crucially, they understand perfectly Handel’s unique sense of dramatic rhetoric, which suffuses the entire disc.

The recording is completed and complemented by cellist Tatty Theo’s excellent and scholarly notes.

One to be treasured!

Alastair Harper