Handel: The Sonatas for Violin and Continuo
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
David Schrader, harpsichord
John Mark Rozendaal, cello
Cedille Records CDR 90000 032
Handel's violin sonatas, familiar to violinists and chamber audiences, have been inexplicably neglected on disc. These intimate, inviting sonatas show the seldom-heard side of Handel's genius.
The violin sonatas span Handel's long career, from the early, Corelli-inspired G Major Sonata, HWV358 (c. 1706-8) to the exciting Sonata in D major (c. 1750). On the CD, the works are sequenced for a pleasing progression of key relationships and mood changes.
The CD opens and closes with sonatas that are authentically Handel's and written expressly for violin: the Sonata in A Major (HWV371), notable for its virtuosic treatment of violin and continuo parts and its noble melodic lines. Handel's last violin sonata, it's widely considered his masterpiece in the genre.
Scholars agree that some sonatas were erroneously attributed to Handel. Three of these are included in the program (HWV368, 370, and 372). "Regardless of authorship, they are very beautiful and well worth playing and hearing," cellist Rozendaal writes in the CD booklet. Another, the Sonata in E major (HWV373) is excluded, "not because of its questionable authorship but because of its inferior quality," he adds.
The program also includes several fine (and authentic) pieces from the 1724-26 period: the Sonatas in d-minor (HWV359a) and g-minor (HWV364a), the a-minor Andante (HWV412) and the c-minor Allegro (HWV408)
These performances are "historically informed," employing a combination of 18th-century and modern practices and equipment. Ms. Barton Pine plays a 1617 Amati violin, in "modern" condition with steel strings. Mr. Rozendaal plays a 1740 cello in restored Baroque condition with gut strings. The bows used are reproductions of 18th-century models. Mr. Schrader plays a 1983 US-built harpsichord based on one in the museum of the Conservatoire National de Paris.
"GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL: THE SONATAS FOR VIOLIN AND CONTINUO"
by John Mark Rozendaal
Handel's solo sonatas for violin, oboe, flute and recorder are less
celebrated works of a major master composer. Yet their beauty has
earned for them a cherished place in the repertoire of instrumentalists
as works both satisfying to play and effective for audiences.
Handel's surviving violin sonatas span his entire career, beginning
with the brilliant HWV358 in G major (c. 1706-08), and ending with
the great D-Major sonata of c. 1750, HWV371. Unfortunately, nothing
is known of the occasions for which these works were created or
their first performances. However, careful study of the autograph
manuscripts has allowed scholars to establish dates of composition
with some accuracy.
HWV358 survives in a manuscript that dates from Handel's brief Hanover
residence (1710). Its style suggests it was composed previously,
however, possibly early in Handel's Italian sojourn (1706-09). While
in Rome, Handel received the support of the Arcadian Academy, a
group of the most prestigious patrons of the arts in the eternal
city. His work in the palaces of Prince Ruspoli, Cardinal Pamphili,
and Cardinal Ottoboni brought him into collaboration with Arcangelo
Corelli, the most influential violinist of the time. Corelli's impassioned
playing and refined Apollonian style of composition became the ideal
for violinists throughout the eighteenth century. Personal contact
with this paragon clearly influenced Handel's concept of writing
for the violin. Corelli participated in the first performances of
some of Handel's works; he was concertmaster for the famous 1708
production of Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione. It is tempting
to imagine that Handel composed HWV358 for Corelli, perhaps as an
offering at one of the meetings of the Arcadian Academy. The theatrical
brilliance of the piece suggests an ear-opening prelude to a sumptuous
cantata or serenata. Yet the style of this early sonata - virtuosic
fast movements connected by a brief linking Largo - suggests that
Handel had not completely absorbed the more lyrical Corellian approach
to the violin and the sonata genre.
Corelli's influence is more clearly heard in the beautiful sonatas
of 1724-26, with their extended cantabile slow movements. These
sonatas all conform to the sonata da chiesa (church sonata) layout
typified in the second part of Corelli's Opus V. Each sonata consists
of four movements arranged in a slow-fast-slow-fast order, with
the fast movements most often in canzona style (fugue-like, with
imitative entries), only occasionally in the form of a dance movement.
A number of these works (including HWV371) were published c. 1730
by John Walsh in a collection entitled Twelve Sonatas or Solo's
for the German Flute, Hautboy and Violin, and sometimes referred
to as "Opus I" (six of these were for violin). Walsh's
earliest publications of Handel's music were not authorized, and
much confusion has been caused by Walsh's unscrupulous methods.
In an effort to conceal his involvement in this pirated edition,
Walsh's first printing of the collection carried a fraudulent title
page indicating that it was published by the Amsterdam printer Etienne
Roger in 1724. The collection also includes a number of sonatas
which are almost certainly not by Handel. We have included three
of these in our program (HWV368, 370, 372). Regardless of authorship,
they are very beautiful, well worth playing and hearing. The sonata
in E-major, HWV373 is excluded from our program, however, not because
of its questionable authorship, but because of its inferior quality.
Special mention should be made of several fine pieces from the 1724-26
period that do not appear in their original form in the Walsh publication
(the sonatas are in Walsh but transcribed for different instruments):
the sonatas in d-minor (HWV359a) and g-minor (HWV364a), the a-minor
Andante (HWV412) and the c-minor Allegro (HWV408). These relatively
little-known works, all surviving in autograph manuscripts in the
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, (and therefore securely attributed
to Handel) have much to recommend them. Note the lively Italianate
dialogues between the violin and the bass line in the second movements
of both sonatas; the broad lyricism of the Andante; and the Beethovenian
drive of the c-minor Allegro.
Handel returned to the violin sonata one last time, around 1750,
to compose his masterpiece in the genre: the Sonata in D-Major (HWV371).
This exciting piece, unpublished in the composer's lifetime, surpasses
its siblings in its virtuosic treatment of both parts and the nobility
of its melodic lines. Handel thought so highly of this work that
he reused its last movement in the oratorio Jephtha to give special
brilliance to the appearance of the angel.
The performers on this recording have attempted to create historically
informed performances using a combination of 18th-century and modern
practices and equipment. Ms. Barton's violin was made in 1617 by
Nicolo Amati (see note below); it is in "modern" condition,
strung with steel strings. The cello is the work of the Roman maker
Jacobus Horil from circa 1740, in restored baroque condition with
gut strings. The bows used are modern reproductions of early 18th-century
models. The double-manual harpsichord used in this recording was
built in 1983 by Lawrence G. Eckstein of West Lafayette, Indiana.
It is based on the Dumont-Taskin harpsichord which is kept in the
museum of the Conservatoire National de Paris. It has two sets of
unison-pitched strings and one set tuned an octave higher. Extensive
work on the instrument's action was carried out by Paul Y. Irvin.
The pitch used in this recording is the modern standard of A=440.
Given this mixed approach, the listener may ask whether this is
an "authentic" rendition or a "modern" one.
In fact, our performances are probably more conditioned by our particular
temperaments, attitudes, and training (including performance practice
study) than by any of the conditions noted above. The truth is,
we strive, as all artists should, to reveal beauty in the music
by whatever means seem best; and that is the most important authenticity.
About the Violin
Rachel Barton plays the "ex-Lobkowicz" Antonius &
Hieronymous Amati of Cremona, 1617, on generous loan from her patron.
The Seal of the Lobkowicz Family on the back of the violin identifies
it as one of the instruments held by this illustrious European family.
Prince Lobkowicz was a significant patron of Beethoven.
The Amati family is responsible for the violin as we know it today.
Andreas Amati invented the violin c. 1550. His sons Antonius and
Hieronymous, known as the Brothers Amati, brought violin making
forward into the 17th century. Hieronymous's son Nicolo continued
to nearly the end of the 17th century and was the teacher of Andreas
Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari.
The violin Miss Barton plays is a particularly fine example of the
makers' work and is excellently preserved. The top is formed from
two pieces of spruce showing fine grain broadening toward the flanks.
The back is formed from two pieces of semi-slab cut maple with narrow
curl ascending slightly from left to right. The ribs and the original
scroll are of similar stock. The varnish is golden-brown in color.
"Violinist Rachel Barton triumphs in her first release for
the Cedille label
Indeed, Rachel Barton's wonderfully vital
Handel performances bring us some of the most refreshing, life-enhancing
Baroque playing heard in years."
"The exuberance of Barton's ornamentation, the naturalness
of her lyricism in these consummately melodic Sonatas, and her technical
command in general (and of nuanced and fleet bowings and clean intonation
in particular) are complemented by the skill and energy of the continuo
support, which never diverts attention from the soloist's starring
role... Recommended. Period."
"[Rachel Barton] is one of the rare mainstream performers
with a total grasp of Baroque style and embellishment, and the whole
disc is a delight
The exhilarating bravura of her incisive
articulation and sharply pointed rhythms is matched by Barton's
singing line in her poised and elegant lyrical movements. Superb
continuo players David Schrader and John Mark Rozendaal contribute
to the real sense of ensemble teamwork."
have gotten inside this procedure [of ornamentation] as convincingly
as violinist Rachel Barton. Her playing is splendid on all levels
- lovely tone, wonderfully expressive phrasing, secure technique,
and strong involvement with the music. But the most unusual aspect
of Barton's Handel is the convincing and imaginative way she embellishes
the repeats in the music - adding runs, ornaments, and flourishes
that give a different aspect to a phrase we've just recently heard
They help to enliven a cherishable disc."
"A spritely partnership between violin and cello, with deft
rhythmic accompaniment on harpsichord
The music's virtuosic
character is rendered with superb, resonant double and triple stopping
and de-emphasized dance motion in the allegros. Barton lets the
music's raw, improvised feeling hang out a little, giving the recording
a refreshing zest."
"[Rachel Barton] uses a baroque bow with her modernized 17th-Century
violin, making a wonderfully warm yet still focused sound, and her
passage work is brilliant yet lyrical - much like the cascades of
a coloratura - and her ornamentation is both thoughtful and virtuosic.
This is a wonderful recording."
American Record Guide
"With two excellent partners, Rachel Barton has given us an
edition of Handel's Violin Sonatas that is one of the more gratifying
recordings of Baroque violin music in the current catalogs."
Editorial Review - Amazon.com