George Frideric Handel
Sonatas for Woodwind Instruments
Media Review / Listening Diary 2014-03-26
2014-03-26 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-11-11 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-19 — Brushed up for better readability
My first encounter with sonatas for recorder with accompaniment by George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) dates back to 1970, when I added an LP with Hans Maria Kneihs (*1943) and Isolde Ahlgrimm (1914 – 1995) to my collection:
That recording is no longer available on CD. It probably was never published on CD at all, as Hans Maria Kneihs (an important figure in the revival of recorder playing during the second half of the 20th century) later made a second, more comprehensive recording of Handel sonatas, together with Christian Landsmann (recorder), Helmuth Puffler (baroque violin), Michael Radulescu and Wolfgang Zerer (harpsichords), Michael Kaiser (cello), and Marcy Bolli (viola da gamba) — that second recording is still available on CD (not discussed here).
In 1977, I added a second recording, a box with 3 LPs, covering all sonatas for single wind instrument and basso continuo, with Frans Brüggen — which I now just added to my CD collection, see below. I haven’t listened to these LPs in over 35 years.
How I got the CD Recordings Below
This was intended as one of a short series of posts dealing with recorder music that I ripped last summer/fall, when my job didn’t leave me much time to deal with extensive comparisons. In this case, the “topic of the day” was meant to be the very first CD in our collection: the first CD listed below, featuring Michael Schneider — a CD that we received as a gift from friends in Germany, back in 1992, before we returned to Switzerland. It took a couple of years until we even just had equipment to listen to CDs — and this one just recently resurfaced.
It then occurred to me that rather than writing about Michael Schneider’s CD now and revisiting this post again later I might as well add the recording with Frans Brüggen from my LP collection mentioned above — now the second recording listed below, and definitely an early reference recording for this music.
The third CD shown below (with Maurice Steger) is discussed in more detail in a separate post, the last one (with Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr playing Handel’s violin sonatas) was just pulled up for comparison purposes.
Handel: Sonatas for Wood-Wind Instruments, Vol.II — Sonatas for Recorder
Michael Schneider, recorder
Deutsche Harmonia mundi GD77104 (CD, stereo); ℗ 1983 / © 1991
(booklet 18pp., d/e/f)
Handel: The Complete Wind Sonatas
Frans Brüggen, Bruce Haynes, Hansjürg Lange, Anner Bylsma, Bob van Asperen
Sony / SEON SB2K 60100 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1974 / © 1998
(booklet 18pp., e/d/f, completely rewritten from the LP liner notes)
An English Collection
Maurice Steger, recorder
Continuo Consort, Naoki Kitaya
claves records CD 50-9614 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1996
(booklet 44pp., e/d/f)
Handel: Complete Violin Sonatas
Harmonia mundi USA HMU 907259 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2001
(booklet 28pp., e/f/d)
The Artists and their Instruments:
Michael Schneider (1985)
In their recording from 1985, Michael Schneider and Sabine Bauer are playing alto recorders:
- alto recorder in f’ (a’ = 403 Hz) by Hans Schimmel, Amsterdam, 1984, after Bressan
- alto recorders in f’ (a’ = 415 Hz) by Friedrich von Huene, Boston, 1981 & 1983, after Stanesby
The accompaniment in that recording is by the Camerata Köln, featuring the following artists:
- Rainer Zipperling: cello by Joh. Georgius Thir, Vienna, 1752; Italian cello, late 18th century
- Michael McCraw: bassoon by Peter de Koningh, Arnhem, 1979, after Wijne
- Harald Hoeren: harpsichord by Klaus Ahrend, Leer, Germany, 1972, after flemish models
- Harald Hoeren: chamber organ by Christoph Lehman, Düsseldorf (1982)
Frans Brüggen (1973/1974)
In his reference recording from 1973/1974, Frans Brüggen is playing
- a recorder by Thomas Stanesby, London, ca. 1700 (a’ = ca. 410 Hz)
- a flauto traverso by Thomas Stanesby, Jr., London, ca. 1740 (a’ = ca. 419 Hz)
The oboe sonatas are played by Bruce Haynes, playing
- an oboe by Thomas Stanesby, Jr., London, ca. 1750 (a’ = ca. 415 Hz)
The accompaniment is done by
- Hansjürg Lange, bassoon by Thomas Stanesby, Jr., London, ca. 1747 (oboe sonatas only)
- Anner Bylsma (1934 – 2019), cello by Mattio Goffriller, Venice, 1699
- Bob van Asperen (*1947), harpsichord after J.D. Dulcken, Antwerp, 1745
- Bob van Asperen, organ by Klaus Ahrend, Leer, Germany, 1972
Maurice Steger (1996)
On the CD “An English Collection” (recorded in 1996), Maurice Steger is playing
- an alto recorder (a’ = 415 Hz) in f’ by T.M. Prescott, Hanover, USA, after Peter I. Bressan
For details on the accompaniment by Naoki Kitaya and his Continuo Consort see the “Listening Diary 2014-01-31“.
Andrew Manze (1998)
Finally, on the last CD listed above (recorded in 1998), Andrew Manze is playing a violin by Joseph Gagliano, Naples, 1782, and Richard Egarr is playing a harpsichord by John Phillips, 1993, after Nicolas Dumont; their pitch is a’ = 415 Hz, the harpsichord is tuned in ordinary French tuning as used in the early 18th century. In this posting I’m only referring to HWV 358 and 359a on this CD, see below; the former is (probably) originally a sonata for recorder and basso continuo (as included with the first CD above), though possibly not even by Handel.
Unfortunately, the musicology around Handel’s woodwind sonatas is anything but clear: most of these compositions were written in Germany and Italy, well before the composer moved to London, and Handel did not really care about the autographs initially — only to find them being published without his permission / supervision.
The publishers (Estienne Rogers in Amsterdam, John Walsh in London) did not care about Handel’s original intent with these pieces. As a result, it is not always clear which pieces are really by Handel, and for many, multiple versions exist, and it is often unclear which instrument these pieces were really written for. We therefore find recordings of a given piece on different instruments; I decided that the simplest solution is to discuss the pieces for woodwind instruments in the sequence of their HWV (Händel-Werkverzeichnis) number.
The opus numbers are from the unauthorized publications and should no longer be used, the other assignments in parentheses refer to the Fitzwilliam manuscript, or to older namings). The chaotic publishing history of Handel’s sonatas for solo instrument is also reflected in the liner notes to the above media:
HWV Numbers vs. Opus Numbers
- In the liner notes to the original LP release of his recording, Frans Brüggen elaborates on how he viewed the various sources and decided what to include in the recording, etc. — the text is interesting as a description on how to approach this music, and as a guide towards a selection of the authentic compositions — unfortunately, the text (though scientifically valuable and accurate) is close to useless for quickly looking up information on a particular sonata (either in the recording, or for seeing whether a given sonata was included); in addition, HWV numbers were unknown 40 years ago, so sonatas are referred to under their (non-Handel) opus number and/or by their key.
- The CD re-edition of Frans Brüggen‘s recording now does feature all HWV numbers; unfortunately, the original text has been replaced by a mere two booklet pages of text that is almost devoid of information on specific sonatas. Luckily, the sonatas are in the same sequence as in the original LP edition, so if both texts are available, one can still dig out the relevant information (with substantial effort, though). As the LP version will typically not be available to CD collectors, I’m making a PDF version of the scanned LP liner notes (English only) available.
- Also the liner notes to the recording by Michael Schneider / Camerata Köln refers to opus numbers only.
- The CD with Maurice Steger features one Handel sonata, referred to as “Sonata II in E minor” (at least, also the title of the collection from which it is taken is mentioned).
- Finally, the CD with the Handel violin sonatas played by Andrew Manze / Richard Egarr mentions HWV numbers — but only for sonatas that have not been assigned an opus number.
Luckily, an up-to-date list with all of Handel’s currently known (authentic) solo sonatas is available on Wikipedia, with (and sorted by) HWV numbers. As the opus numbers are not assigned uniquely (there is some confusion among the various illegal publishers), the discussion below uses HWV numbers as main “anchor” for all compositions.
In addition, let me start with the track listings, complemented by HWV numbers:
Frans Brüggen / Bruce Haynes (CD / LP):
- 1 – 5 (CD #1 / LP #1-A): Sonata HWV 365 in C major (recorder, op.1/7)
- 6 – 9: Sonata HWV 374 in A minor (transverse flute)
- 10 – 13 (LP #1-B): Sonata HWV 366 in C minor (oboe, op.1/8)
- 14 – 17: Sonata HWV 362 in A minor (recorder, op.1/4)
- 18 – 22 (LP #2-A): Sonata HWV 363b in G major (transverse flute, op.1/5)
- 23 – 26: Sonata HWV 359b in E minor (transverse flute, op.1/1b)
- 27 – 30: Sonata HWV 360 in G minor (recorder, op.1/2)
- 1 – 4 (CD #2 / LP #2-B): Sonata HWV 376 in B minor (transverse flute)
- 5 – 9: Sonata HWV 367a in D minor (recorder)
- 10 – 12 (LP #3-A): Sonata HWV 377 in B♭ major (recorder)
- 13 – 15: Sonata HWV 357 in B♭ major (oboe)
- 16 – 19: Sonata HWV 369 in F major (recorder, op.1/11)
- 20 (LP #3-B): Sonata HWV 375 in E minor (transverse flute, Minuet only)
- 21: Sonata HWV 367a in B minor (transverse flute, op.1/9, Andante only)
- 22: Sonata HWV 367b in D minor (recorder, op.1/9, A tempo di menuet only)
- 23: Andante HWV 409 in D minor (recorder)
- 24: Sonata HWV 363a in F major (oboe, op.1/5)
- 1: Sonata HWV 367a in D minor (recorder) —
Andante HWV 409 in D minor (recorder) —
Sonata HWV 367b in D minor (recorder, op.1/9, A tempo di menuet)
- 2: Sonata HWV 377 in B♭ major (recorder)
- 3: Sonata HWV 360 in G minor (recorder, op.1/2)
- 4: Sonata HWV 362 in A minor (recorder, op.1/4)
- 5: Sonata HWV 365 in C major (recorder, op.1/7)
- 6: Sonata HWV 369 in F major (recorder, op.1/11)
- 7: Sonata HWV 358 in G major (recorder)
- 8: Sonata HWV 405 in F major (Triosonata)
- 1 – 4: Sonata HWV 369 in F major (recorder, op.1/11)
- 9 – 12: Sonata HWV 375 in E minor (transverse flute, played on recorder)
- 1 – 4: Sonata HWV 371 in D major (violin, op.1/13, not discussed here)
- 5 – 8: Sonata HWV 370 in F major (violin, op.1/12, not discussed here)
- 9 – 12: Sonata HWV 359a in D minor (violin)
- 13 – 16: Sonata HWV 361 in A major (violin, op.1/3, not discussed here)
- 17 – 20: Sonata HWV 364a in G minor (violin, op.1/6, not discussed here)
- 21 – 24: Sonata HWV 372 in A major (violin, op.1/10, not discussed here)
- 25 – 28: Sonata HWV 373 in E major (violin, op.1/15, not discussed here)
- 29 – 31: Sonata HWV 358 in G major (recorder, played on violin)
- 32: Andante HWV 412 in A minor (violin, not discussed here)
- 33: Allegro HWV 408 in C minor (violin, not discussed here)
Sonata HWV 357 for oboe and basso continuo in B♭ major (Fitzwilliam)
Allegro — Grave — Allegro (ca. 6.5′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #2, tracks 13 – 15
This is included with Frans Brüggen’s recording, played by Bruce Haynes (oboe), Hansjürgen Lange (bassoon), and Bob van Asperen (harpsichord).
For me, the first movement is a bit slow for an Allegro, in the second movement (Grave), I’m not entirely happy with the ornaments and the articulation — but the final Allegro is very nice and joyful. The sound of the baroque oboe is much softer and darker than a modern instrument, and it has a wider scope of tonal colors (probably at the expense of a smaller volume, but that is irrelevant for chamber music).
Rating: 3 / 3 / 4
Sonata HWV 358 for recorder and basso continuo in G major
Allegro — Adagio — Allegro (ca. 4.5′ total time)
Manze, tracks 29 – 31
Schneider, track 7
Frans Brüggen did not include this sonata in his collection — albeit assigned a HWV number, it is a strange composition: the instrument designation is unclear, the tonal range does not go below g’, a full octave above the lowest string on the violin, so it is unlikely to be a violin sonata. I also feel that the slow movement is rather strange and definitely not for string instrument — and it lacks Handel’s outstanding sense for melody. Still, people claim it is by Handel.
For me, the interpretation by Andrew Manzeand Richard Egarr just proves the point just made: it’s definitely not for string instruments, Manze’s slow movement sounds odd, crude, and the last movement ends in a passage that is hardly playable on the violin at all (in the first pass, Manze transposes the questionable notes down by an octave, in the final pass he tries some odd-sounding flageolet sounds; overall, not really a pleasure to listen to (the other pieces on that CD — not discussed here — are OK, though, and they are proper violin sonatas matching up to Handel’s genius.
Rating: 4 / 2 / 3
Michael Schneider offers a much more convincing interpretation of this piece, demonstrating that the recorder is a viable instrument choice here: everything sounds plausible (even though the slow movement isn’t a really “strong” composition, the artist’s ornaments make this short movement a good transition between the two fast movements. Schneider is virtuosic, articulates well, the instrument sound is very good, the recording transparent. In the fast movements, a bassoon (Michael McCraw) reinforces the continuo (Harald Hoeren, harpsichord).
Sonata HWV 359a for violin and basso continuo in D minor
Sonata HWV 359b for flauto traverso and basso continuo in E minor (op.1/1b)
Grave — Allegro — Adagio — Allegro (ca. 7.5′ total time)
Manze, tracks 9 – 12
Brüggen, CD #1, tracks 23 – 26
I don’t have much music for transverse flute in my CD collection — one reference so far has been Barthold Kuijken (see “Telemann: 12 Fantasias for Flute“); Frans Brüggen plays this sonata with the accompaniment of a cello (Anner Bylsma) and organ (Bob van Asperen): the organ is a better match for the transverse flute, the cello makes the bass line / counter-point stand out nicely, giving it good contours.
I very much like Frans Brüggen’s tone on the flauto traverso: it often sounds pretty close to a recorder, has more “substance”, is less “airy”, less soft and smooth than Barthold Kuijken’s, maybe slightly rougher — overall, his tone has lots of character, and Brüggen’s articulation is impeccable, of course! An excellent performance and recording — and a very nice sonata! This sonata was also referred to as op.1.1b — it exists in a slightly different version, also in E minor, referred to as op.1.1a (not recorded here).
Rating: 4 / 4 / 5 / 5
This sonata was first published for violin and basso continuo, included with the recording by Andrew Manzeand Richard Egarr; here, the initial Grave features much richer ornamentation, but also feels substantially heavier (which, presumably, is appropriate for a Grave!) — totally different in character, hardly comparable. Also in the first Allegro, the violin version has more “substance” than the version for transverse flute. The Adagio is very nice in both versions; the final Allegro strikes me as being particularly “violinistic” and interpreted very well by Manze / Egarr — but the same can be said (mutatis mutandis) about the above version for transverse flute. Overall, both versions strike me as compelling — I can’t give preference to either version.
Rating: 4 / 5 / 5 / 5
Sonata HWV 360 for recorder and basso continuo in G minor (op.1/2)
Larghetto — Andante — Adagio — Presto (ca. 8′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #1, tracks 27 – 30
Schneider, track 3
Frans Brüggen plays this sonata (as well as most other recorder sonatas) with the accompaniment of a cello (Anner Bylsma) and harpsichord (Bob van Asperen); I’m going to discuss this in somewhat more detail than the following sonatas — with a grain of salt, the following remarks also apply to the other sonatas for these instruments / with these artists.
Historic Recorders vs. Replicas
First and foremost, Frans Brüggen and his recorder: most of today’s recorder players use instrument replicas, ideally from a recorder builder / shop that they have (relatively) easy access to, e.g., for the tuning to be adjusted, the wind channel geometry to be fine-tuned for an optimum tone and response, while at the same time trying to minimize the effect of moisture build-up in the wind channel. Historic recorders — of which Frans Brüggen has quite a collection — are a different story: they are rare and precious, and altering the geometry (any kind of “woodwork” other than very careful cleaning, maybe) is out of question — the instrument either works, or it doesn’t.
Of course, recorders are sensitive to changes in humidity — and yet, for playing one needs to blow into them, which invariably moistens the wind channel and at the same time alters the temperature of the bore; with the wind channel being so susceptible to clogging from humidity — often resulting in a rough or even failing tone / response — recorders appear more fragile / delicate than most other baroque wind instruments. Not infrequently, recorders experience a finite life span from the humidity and temperature stress caused by playing the instrument — with all this, I can fully appreciate the uniqueness and value of Brüggen’s recording!
How do Historic Recorders Sound?
Now, how does Brüggen’s recorder sound? From the above, one may expect that the instrument sounds fragile, maybe out of tune, that there might be problems with the response, especially when playing fast passages; however, none of this can be observed — even though I find that Brüggen’s recorder sounds distinctly different from all recorder (replica) recordings that I have listened to recently: the tone is beautiful, balanced, yet not too smooth, with a lot of character. What I find most amazing is the transient response: every tone starts with a little “df”, just like some flue stops on a baroque pipe organ — not irritating at all, but (with Brüggen’s articulation) nicely structuring melodies, giving the music a rhythmic structure.
Brüggen avoids extreme tempi: in the final Presto, he selects a tempo that still permits articulating clearly — the Presto impression remains, but through the accompaniment rather than the solo part. There may be two aspects that indicate that this recording is already 40 years old: Brüggen uses a (nice, broad) vibrato just about all the time — I suspect that he now would use it more selectively; also, (some of) his ornaments occasionally seem a bit predictable, almost stereotype — ideally, I think ornaments should sound as if they were improvised. But both these points are criticism at a very high level.
Anner Bylsma’s historic cello has a very nice, full sound, his playing is impeccable, and very much adjusted to Brüggen’s recorder playing and articulation; unfortunately, both the cello and the harpsichord (Bob van Asperen) are too much in the background in this recording, lacking acoustic differentiation, and the harpsichord is almost entirely lacking bass sound.
Rating: 5 / 5 / 5 / 4
The recording with Michael Schneider, Rainer Zipperling (cello) and Harald Hoeren (harpsichord) is substantially different: as a recording, it is more transparent and balanced — the sound technique does more justice to the harpsichord. On the other hand, the recorder sound is much less differentiated than with Brüggen’s historic instrument; this impression is amplified by Michael Schneider’s tendency to use legato playing in the slow movements; it is expressive, but sometimes a bit static. The final Presto is much faster than Brüggen’s — virtuosic, and about as fast as the continuo players manage!
Sonata HWV 362 for recorder and basso continuo in E minor (op.1/4)
Larghetto — Allegro — Adagio — Allegro (ca. 11′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #1, tracks 14 – 17
Schneider, track 4
Rating: 4 / 4 / 5 / 5
Compared to Brüggen, Michael Schneider, Rainer Zipperling (cello) and Harald Hoeren (harpsichord) prefer slightly faster tempi pretty much throughout (in the Adagio their interpretation has the same duration, thanks to a short, added cadenza). Schneider’s playing features much less vibrato, is more linear, with a tendency towards legato playing.
Sonata HWV 363a for oboe and basso continuo in F major (op.1/5, early version)
Sonata HWV 363b for flauto traverso and basso continuo in G major (op.1/5)
Adagio — Allegro — Adagio — Bourée — Menuet (ca. 7.5′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #2, track 24
Brüggen, CD #1, tracks 18 – 22
The sonata op.1/5 in G major is published for transverse flute and continuo (HWV 363b); Frans Brüggen has included this in his recording: a very nice sonata, in an excellent interpretation, accompanied by Anner Bylsma (cello) and Bob van Asperen (harpsichord).
Rating: 4 / 5 / 4 / 4 / 4
Frans Brüggen also located a manuscript from the 18th century with the same sonata in slightly different version in F major, for oboe and basso continuo (HWV 363a); from this, he included just the Allegro movement, played by Bruce Haynes (oboe), Hansjürgen Lange (bassoon), and Bob van Asperen (harpsichord). A nice interpretation, though in my opinion it can’t quite match up to Brüggen’s own interpretation on the flauto traverso, which is also slightly faster, more virtuosic.
Sonata HWV 365 for recorder and basso continuo in C major (op.1/7)
Larghetto — Allegro — Larghetto — A tempo di Gavotta — Allegro (ca. 11′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #1, tracks 1 – 5
Schneider, track 5
Rating: 5 / 5 / 4 / 5 / 5
Michael Schneider, Rainer Zipperling (cello) and Harald Hoeren (harpsichord): a good recording in general; my main point of reservation is that the initial Larghetto sounds almost like an Andante — even though the tempo isn’t that much faster than Brüggen’s — a matter of articulation, maybe?
Sonata HWV 366 for oboe and basso continuo in C minor (op.1/8)
Largo — Allegro — Adagio — Bourée anglaise: Allegro (ca. 6′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #1, tracks 10 – 13
This is also included with Frans Brüggen’s recording, played by Bruce Haynes (oboe), Hansjürgen Lange (bassoon), and Bob van Asperen (harpsichord). I really like the sound of the baroque oboe (see HWV 357 above), as well as the bassoon from the same manufacturer (Thomas Stanesby Jr.) — neither of these instruments show signs of age (other than through their beautiful baroque sound quality); the main “bad feature” about this recording is that (similar to Brüggen’s recordings with recorder) the harpsichord is almost entirely covered by the sound of the two woodwind instruments: the listener can barely hear a rather narrow tonal range in the upper half of the keyboard. Apart from this technical limitation, it is a very nice recording!
Rating: 4 / 4 / 4 / 4
Sonata HWV 367a for recorder and basso continuo in D minor (Fitzwilliam)
Largo — Vivace — Furioso — Adagio — Alla breve (ca. 11′)
Sonata HWV 367b for flauto traverso and basso continuo in B minor (op.1/9)
Largo — Vivace — Furioso — Adagio — Alla breve — Andante — A tempo di Menuet (ca. 15′)
Andante HWV 409 for recorder and basso continuo in D minor (Fitzwilliam)
Andante (ca. 2′)
Brüggen, CD #2, tracks 5 – 9, 21 – 23
Schneider, track 1
The sonatas HWV 367a and 367b are an example for the result of the convoluted publishing history. Frans Brüggen included the sonata HWV367a in D minor for recorder and continuo, accompanied by Anner Bylsma (cello) and Bob van Asperen (harpsichord), but as these five movements are identical to the version HWV 367b for transverse flute in B minor, he decided not to record the entire HWV 367b; instead, he just recorded movement 6, Andante, from than version, plus the last movement, A tempo di Menuet, but in a version for recorder, for which an autograph exists. The Andante is a (remote) descendant or predecessor of another Andante, HWV 409, for recorder and basso continuo, which Brüggen recorded separately (track #23 on the second CD).
As for the interpretation & the recording technique: this is clearly much more balanced, spatially more transparent than most or all of the other recordings for recorder and continuo by these artists: at last one which does justice to the harpsichord, making it not only audible, but also presenting its lowest bass register (different microphone placement?). The Vivace is slower than Schneider’s (not presto!), with more careful, lighter articulation. The same in the Furioso: excellent, but not too fast, allowing for careful and detailed articulation. The Adagio is less legato than Schneider’s, again very well articulated. The final movement, A tempo di Menuet, is taken as a slow, calm dance — yet clearly maintaining the dance character, with the usual, detailed and careful articulation. The separate Andante, HWV 409, for a change, is faster than Schneider’s interpretation.
Rating: 5 (all tracks)
Michael Schneider, Rainer Zipperling (cello) and Harald Hoeren (harpsichord) recorded HWV 367a with the addition of the Andante HWV 409 and the A tempo di Menuet from HWV 367b (same version for recorder as also played by Brüggen). The first movement, Largo, is more legato than Brüggen’s, but also more richly ornamented, the tempo is about the same as Brüggen’s — yet this feels less like a Largo, more nervous, less calm.
The Vivace is virtuosic, faster, focusing on the syncopation, but also a bit breathless and more superficial in the articulation.The Furioso is very (too) fast , virtuosic and demanding for all artists — but often superficial in the articulation. The Largo is very nice, more legato than Brüggen’s. Strangely, Schneider omits the most obvious opportunity for a short cadenza at the end of the Alla breve movement. The Andante HWV 409, is slower than Brüggen’s, somewhat static. The final movement, A tempo di Menuet, is faster than Brüggen’s — almost too fast for a Menuet; at this tempo, it is in danger of losing its dance character, particularly because the interpretation also feels slightly stiff, rigid.
Sonata HWV 369 for recorder and basso continuo in F major (op.1/11)
Larghetto — Allegro — Alla Siciliana — Allegro (ca. 8′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #2, tracks 16 – 19
Schneider, track 6
Steger, tracks 1 – 4
This is the only sonata for which I have three recordings using the original instrument assignment for the solo part:
Frans Brüggen (recorder), Anner Bylsma (cello), and Bob van Asperen (organ), recorded in 1974: in the accompaniment, especially in the slow movements, the cello is almost completely inconspicuous, hidden by the organ sound. In the Larghetto, the accompaniment is rather flat, static, some of Brüggen’s ornaments maybe a bit schematic, but the articulation & the sound of the recorder excellent, as expected. The fast movements are played with lighter, excellent articulation (solo & continuo) — to me, the better part of Brüggen’s recording of this sonata. In the Alla Siciliana, I find Brüggen’s articulation rather monotonous (belly notes, strong vibrato almost throughout), especially when compared to Steger’s interpretation, even though one may “hear the 40 years of its age”.
Rating: 4 / 5 / 4 / 5
Michael Schneider (recorder), Rainer Zipperling (cello), and Harald Hoeren (organ), recorded in 1985: In both the Larghetto and the Alla Siciliana, Schneider is playing legato almost throughout — too monotonous and flat to me. The first Allegro tends to lose drive, is rather static. In this interpretation, the last movement is the best one — even though it does not come close to the other two interpretations.
Rating: 3 / 3 / 3 / 4
Maurice Steger (recorder), with Naoki Kitaya and his Continuo Consort, recorded this sonata in 1996, in a rich setup featuring Yasunori Imamura and Eric Bellocq (theorbo), Guido Balestracci (viola da gamba), Roberto Sensi (violone), Naoki Kitaya (chest organ), and Irene Müller-Glasewald (harpsichord) — an almost orchestral setting, and certainly featuring the richest sound among any of the recordings discussed here: maybe, this rich instrumentation was selected in order to avoid sounding “ordinary” with this (too) well-known sonata?
In the slow movements, Steger is using vibrato selectively — and I definitely like his ornamentation most among these recordings; he is never flat and definitely never boring in the slow movements! The first Allegro really is joy- and playful, vivid, sparkling, almost feverish, fascinating! The same can be said about the final Allegro, which is virtuosic and at the same time fun, with some nice gags! For more information on the CD with Maurice Steger, see the blog entry “Listening Diary 2014-01-31“.
Rating: 5 / 5 / 5 / 5
Sonata HWV 374 for flauto traverso and basso continuo in A minor
Adagio — Allegro — Adagio — Allegro (ca. 10.5′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #1, tracks 6 – 9
Part of the recording with Frans Brüggen (traverso), Anner Bylsma (cello), and Bob van Asperen (organ): my remarks above on HWV 359b fully apply here as well. In the slow movements, the continuo is played by the organ alone.
Sonata HWV 375 for flauto traverso and basso continuo in E minor
Adagio — Allegro — Grave — Minuet (ca. 9′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #2, track 20
Steger, tracks 9 – 12
Frans Brüggen (traverso), Anner Bylsma (cello), and Bob van Asperen (harpsichord) decided not to record this sonata on the transverse flute, arguing that the first two movements are identical (apart from a key change) to the sonata for oboe and basso continuo in C minor, HWV 366, which is included in his collection (see above). In order to retain at least some of this composition, he decided to record the last movement, a Minuet, but to skip the Grave.
I think Brüggen’s solo part falls in line with the quality of his other interpretations on the transverse flute; the cello part is not standing out acoustically and remains inconspicuous; unfortunately, Bob van Asperen (harpsichord) decided to use the lute stop for the entire movement, combined with not always optimum (sometimes close to dull) arpeggio playing; the lute stop is how lute stops sounded in the early 70’s — frankly, I don’t like it; overall, the accompaniment sounds rather boring.
Maurice Steger has recorded the four movements of this sonata on an alto recorder, accompanied by Naoki Kitaya and his Continuo Consort. the alto recorder is not the original instrument assigned for this sonata — plus, Steger does not try imitating the sound of a transverse flute, and the sound of his replica instrument (after Bressan), and his sound is certainly farther away from a transverse flute than Frans Brüggen’s; however, for me Steger’s playing is still a “perfect fit” for this music.
In parts, that impression may stem from the fact that Steger uses ornamentation that is typical of current historically informed recorder playing — different from the ornaments that one would / might use on the transverse flute, and definitely different from what Frans Brüggen would have used 40 years ago (as mentioned before, it’s mostly in the ornaments where one can sense the age of Brüggen’s recording).
Recorder vs. Oboe?
A comparison of Maurice Steger‘s recording with Bruce Haynes‘ interpretation of HWV 366 on the oboe seems unfair under several aspects: between the oboe, the transverse flute and the recorder, the oboe has the narrowest range of tonal colors, the recorder is even richer in expressions than the transverse flute; Steger uses more and a wider range of ornaments — and, on top of all this, the bassoon + harpsichord accompaniment can simply not compete with the richer sound from the instruments used in Naoki Kitaya’s Continuo Consort (harpsichord, theorbo, viola da gamba), combined with much better recording technique (1996).
Under this aspect, I can also understand Brüggen’s decision not to record the Grave movement, however, with Steger’s rich recorder ornamentation and the warm, full sound of his accompaniment, the slow movement definitely makes sense to me — a very nice, excellent interpretation. The same holds true for the final Minuet, even though Steger takes the tempo at the lower limit, where it just still can be called a Minuet. For more information on the CD with Maurice Steger, see the blog entry “Listening Diary 2014-01-31“.
Rating: 5 / 5 / 5 / 5
Sonata HWV 376 for flauto traverso and basso continuo in B minor
Adagio — Allegro — Largo — Allegro (ca. 7′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #2, tracks 1 – 4
Part of the recording with Frans Brüggen (traverso), Anner Bylsma (cello), and Bob van Asperen (organ), see above for HWV 359b and HWV 374; the cello is present in all movements. Brüggen’s performances with transverse flute are true reference recordings, despite their age!
Sonata HWV 377 for recorder and basso continuo in B♭ major (Fitzwilliam)
(Tempo ordinario) — Adagio — Allegro (ca. 6′ total time)
Brüggen, CD #2, tracks 10 – 12
Schneider, track 2
This is one of the most well-known sonatas for recorder and continuo by Handel; Michael Schneider plays this with the accompaniment of a cello (Rainer Zipperling) and organ (Harald Hoeren) — a decent recording, with a nice, “talking” organ part, in a well-balanced recording, though the continuo part does not appear very clearly structured.
Frans Brüggen accurately read the title in several the original publications (not authorized by Handel, though) “… with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsichord or Bass Violin, …”: he plays this sonata with the sole accompaniment of a cello, played by Anner Bylsma — and the result is rather unusual to today’s “baroque ears”, but nevertheless very compelling!
One does not really miss the harmonies from keyboard instrument, as the bass line contains several sections with broken chords; in the slow movement, Bylsma adds very few, selective parallel notes, in order to (vaguely) indicate harmonies. Also, one does not miss the rhythmic structuring through the plucking of the harpsichord strings or the transient response of flue pipes on an organ: the transient response of Brüggen’s wonderful historic recorder and the non-legato / gut string sound of Bylsma’s cello (almost exactly the same age as Brüggen’s recorder!) are more than sufficient to provide rhythmic transparency, while maintaining optimum transparency. Excellent!
Sonata HWV 405 for 2 recorders and basso continuo in B♭ major (Trio sonata)
Allegro — Grave — Allegro (ca. 5′ total time)
Schneider, track 8
Schneider / Bauer
This is the only trio sonata in these recordings, included on the first CD listed above, played by Michael Schneider and Sabine Bauer (recorders), Michael McCraw (bassoon), and Harald Hoeren (harpsichord). A nice, lively piece, very nicely played (my only minor criticism is that maybe in the slow and the last movements, that harpsichord continuo is a bit too much 1:1 chord-by-chord, but that is not a major issue, more a matter of taste / personal preference).
Despite its age, I would still call Frans Brüggen‘s CD set a reference recording — for the sound of the original, historic instruments, and also for its completeness. The (slight) downsides in this recording are due to its age, which shows up not just in the limitations of the recording technique, but also in the treatment of ornaments and vibrato.
The recording with Michael Schneider is OK, but could be a bit more playful, dynamic.
The recording with Maurice Steger shows what recent “front line recorder players” can do with Handel’s compositions: an excellent recording, a real listening pleasure — but it only covers two of Handel’s sonatas, unfortunately; also, it’s probably not what a recorder student should aim for as a first goal!