HANDEL: Recorder Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 2, 4, 7 and 11 (Ibolya Toth/ Laszlo Czidra/ Pal Kelemen/ Zsolt Harsanyi/ Zsolt Harsanyi/ Zsuzsa Pertis) (Naxos: 8.550700)
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George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685, the son of an elderly barber-surgeon of some distinction and his second wife. Destined by his father for a career of greater prestige than music seemed to allow, he was permitted to study music only through the intervention of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, at whose court Handel's father served. After the latter's death, he studied briefly at the University of Hallé, combining the study of law with a position as organist at the Calvinist cathedral in the city, before moving in 1703 to Hamburg, where he played second violin in the opera orchestra, later taking his place as harpsichordist and writing his first Italian operas, produced there in January and February 1705.
A meeting with Prince Ferdinando de' Medici, heir to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, led to an invitation to Italy, where Handel moved in 1706, remaining there until 1710 and winning for himself an increasing reputation as a keyboard-player and as a composer, although to Corelli in Rome his style appeared to be too French. Nevertheless it was Italy that decisively influenced his musical language and it was as a composer of Italian opera that he was to make his earlier career in England.
Handel had spent time in various cities of Italy and in Venice had met Baron Kielmansegge, Master of Horse to the Elector of Hanover, and members of the ruling family. It was through the Baron's agency that Handel was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector, an appointment that he took up in the summer of 1710, stipulating immediate leave to visit England, where he provided music for Aaron Hill's ambitious opera Rinaldo, mounted at w hat was then the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket and the subject of satirical comment from Addison and Steele in The Spectator. The following year he returned to Hanover, where he remained for fifteen months before permission was given once more for a visit to England. From 1712 he was to settle there permanently.
Handel was, of course, a composer of considerable versatility and had already written a large amount of music of all kinds. In London he was associated immediately with the Italian opera and under royal patronage wrote music for the court and for the church, quickly learning from the work of Purcell something of the English church style. The death of Queen Anne and the accession to the English throne of the Elector of Hanover might have caused some embarrassment, since Handel was still nominally the Elector's Kapellmeister, absent without leave. He was, however, to enjoy the new king's favour soon enough, proof, if any were needed, of the apocryphal nature of the story about the Water Music, popularly alleged to have reconciled monarch and composer.
Handel came to enjoy enormous popularity in England, where he long remained the dominant figure in music, at the expense of native talent. The fortunes of the exotic, irrational and expensive Italian opera waned in the 1730s, when Handel first turned his attention to the creation of a form of music particularly well suited to English religious, dramatic and linguistic prejudices, the English oratorio. By the 1740s he was able to devote much of his attention to compositions of this kind, with the first performances of Messiah in 1742, and a series of oratorios leading to the final work, Jephtha, in 1752. He continued his involvement in London concert seasons until his death in 1759.
The posthumous reputation of Handel in England distorted his real achievement, as the later years of the eighteenth century brought ever larger Handel celebrations, using forces never at the composer's disposal in his life-time. Oratorio, in its English form, unlike Italian opera with its minimal work for chorus, provided ample material for amateur and professional choirs, a provision that suited the nineteenth century popular choral movement. In some ways this has tended to obscure Handel's real character, his craftsmanship, his melodic gifts, his invention and humour.
The solo sonatas by Handel published as Opus 1 appeared in England in the early 1730s under the imprint of the London publisher Thomas Walsh, all probably written very much earlier. Four of the set seem to have been composed for treble recorder and basso continuo, although publishers normally left the choice of solo instrument open. The simple description treble instrument would allow sales also to players of the oboe or violin. The sonatas are attractive in melody, and thoroughly characteristic of Handel's musical idiom. In the Sonata in G minor, Opus 1 No.2, a straightforward Larghetto is followed by an Andante in the style of Gorelli, a very brief Adagio and a final Presto, Opus 1 No.4, in A minor, starts with an Italian triple rhythm Larghetto, leading to an energetic Allegro, its opening figure based on the tonic triad. A short linking Adagio leads to a final Allegro with the usual sequences and imitation between the parts. The Sonata in G major, No.7 of the set, again starts with a Larghetto over a moving quaver bass. In the following triple time Allegro the entry of the recorder is delayed until the fifth bar, with a third movement ternary form Gavotte and a final Allegro. Opus 1 No.11, in F major, is marked, in its slow first movement, by the ascending melodic lines of bass and recorder. The second movement Allegro leads to a D minor Siciliana, a traditional shepherd dance, and a final Allegro in compound metre. The Sonata in D minor, published relatively recently, survives in the collection of Handel manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
The three short pieces, an A minor Minuet, a 14-bar A minor Air and a 12-bar Gigue are vignettes of Handel's craft, intended for a musical clock, while the Trio Sonata in F major represents a form of music to which Handel had apparently turned even in childhood. Lelio's aria comes from the last act of Handel's opera Scipione, a work celebrating the magnanimity of Scipio, who gave up the captive Berenice, with whom he had fallen in love, together with her ransom, to allow her to rejoin her lover. The Overture to the opera, first produced in London in 1726, makes some use of the Recorder Sonata in G major, Opus 1 No.7, the latter dated, because of the date of the paper on which it survives, to 1725.
László Czidra is one of the most distinguished recorder-players today, combining practical ability as a performer with skill as a musicologist and as ar1istic director of the Camerata Hungarica. His recordings as a soloist include the Brandenburg Concertos, a Suite and Concer1o of Telemann and concer1os and sonatas by Vivaldi.
The bassoonist Zsolt Harsanyi has served as a principal in the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra since 1971. He is a member of the Camerata Hungarica, where he is also a player of the recorder, principally the bass.
The Hungarian keyboard-player Zsuzsa Pertis was a piano pupil of Pál Kadosa at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest, proceeding thereafter to the Vienna Academy, where she studied the harpsichord under Isolde Ahlgrimm, graduating with distinction in 1969, a year after winning second prize in the Bruges International Harpsichord Competition. Since 1969 she has been professor of harpsichord at the Ferenc Liszt Academy and is a member of the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra. She has performed in the major cities of Europe and with the Franz Liszt Chamb