In his liner notes, Andrew Manze writes that this collection, which includes two single movements--one slow, one fast--represents all of Handel's violin sonatas, but that no one is really sure how many of them he actually wrote. No matter; they all contain wonderful music and have been loved by players and listeners since they were written. Six are well known. Two are unfamiliar, and the second of these, in G major, is quite unlike all the others: two brilliant fast movements separated by a brief, highly dramatic slow recitative. The rest are cast in the customary four-movement form, but they still have extraordinary diversity; no two of them sound alike.
Manze's program is arranged for utmost contrast, and his playing underlines the differences. He is a fabulous violinist with an effortless virtuoso technique and extraordinary bow control. He has at his disposal an incredible variety of articulation, dynamics, and nuance, which he uses to change mood, character, and expression with utmost subtlety and minimal means. He vibrates sparingly but to great tonal and emotional effect; his expressiveness ranges from driving vigor, exuberance, and headlong impetuosity to mournfulness, dramatic intensity, songful lyricism, and serenity. His rhythm is buoyant and flexible and he hesitates on certain significant upbeats in a way that is mischievous but not mannered; his tempi, fast and slow, are judicious and controlled. Both he and his pianist ornament lavishly and imaginatively in a wonderfully spontaneous, improvisatory fashion, especially in slow movements and repeats, often bursting into brilliant runs. This is "authentic" playing in every sense: faithful to the composer, the style, and the performers' passionate feeling for the music. --Edith Eisler
Every once in a while a recording comes along that takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to come face to face with your long-held prejudices. So it is with this latest offering from Andrew Manze. Long ago, Handel's Op. 1 Sonatas ceased to work their magic for me. It has taken an inspirational recording such as this to bring about a reappraisal. And for many other listeners too, I think, this recording will prove a revelation. So often played as though they were music to satisfy a middle-brow, amateur market, Manze takes Handel's sonatas as seriously as he does Bach's. The results are astonishing. This music has never traversed so many emotional planes before. And it's not just a one-man show. Harpsichordist Richard Egarr's virtuoso continuo realizations (without sustaining cello) make for moments of real duetting. The recording itself has marvellous depth and Manze's fiddle (a Joseph Gagliano, built in Naples in 1782) is captured in a gorgeously mellow acoustic somewhere in the middle distance. As the title makes clear, this is a recording of the complete violin sonatas, not the usual run-through of the 12 of Handel's Op. 1. Many of the sonatas from Op. 1 were originally intended for wind instruments and some serious scholarly work has been necessary to weed out the authentic violin sonatas from this and several other sources. In summary, five genuine violin sonatas emerge (in D and G minor and D, G and A major), plus two promising fragments. We get all these, plus three 'rejected' violin sonatas, whose ascription to Handel may now be doubted, but not their outstanding musical quality. In his insert notes Manze tells the story of how the Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani was summoned to play before the King and chose Handel as his accompanist from heaven. It's possible that they played one of Handel's sonatas. 'If the present performers have achieved in any small measure the impossible task of impersonating two of 18th-century London's finest performers', writes Manze, 'then may the listener enjoy playing the King!'. They have, and we listeners are certainly in for a right royal treat. This is the first recording which really discovers the seeds of genius in this music. Quite simply, this is the finest recording of Handel's violin sonatas ever made. Simon Heighes
-- From International Record Review - subscribe now