Handel: Works for Viola da Gamba & Harpsichord

Ibrahim Aziz, Masumi Yamamoto
First Hand Records FHR91

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This CD of music by Handel for viola da gamba and harpsichord presents the G-minor Sonata HWV 364b and a couple of contested works, which may be the work of the young Handel along with a series of arrangements, respectively of the A-major Violin Sonata and the Keyboard Suites HWV 448 and 437. As fillers, we have the Suite HWV 429 for solo harpsichord in a copy by Gottlieb Muffat and a Prélude from a gamba suite by Sainte-Colombe le fils. So, while the title may not strictly describe what is ‘in the tin’, the performers have been distinctly imaginative and enterprising in their choice of repertoire. The playing is beautiful, with some wonderfully poignant gamba sounds from Aziz, who also displays a deft virtuosity on the instrument, while Yamamoto provides an impressively responsive accompaniment. Particularly intriguing are the musicians’ solo slots. The very conservative piece, thoroughly in the French style, by Saint-Colombe le fils, could easily be by his father, Jean, who taught the legendary Marin Marais – this in spite of the fact that S-C le fils was working in London at the same time as Handel. The edition of Handel’s HWV 429 suite for harpsichord by Gottlieb Theofile Muffat, son of the more imminent Georg Muffat, is intriguingly revelatory of performance practice at the time. Gottlieb Muffat, also a keyboard composer in his own right, spent his whole life in Vienna, and it is fascinating to think of him bringing his version of the music of Handel to the Austrian public in the generation before Mozart would find an audience for his Handel adaptations. Did he feel that Handel’s music needed ‘adapted’ to suit the Viennese taste, or as a composer/player could he just not bear to keep his hands off this fine repertoire? Throughout his lifetime, Handel was dogged by breaches of what would now be called copyright, but this is something else entirely – more akin to an homage from an admiring fellow composer. This is a thought-provoking and musically very satisfying CD.

D. James Ross

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