Handel Violin Sonatas / Christie, Kurosaki
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Audio CD, Import, May 6, 2003
This recording of Handel's sonatas for violin and harpsichord (or organ) uses a Baroque violin; the competition to this CD, on the Cedille label, features the spectacular Rachel Barton playing a modern violin, with harpsichord and cello as continuo. In addition, she includes an extra pair of probably-not-by-Handel sonatas (Kurosaki and Christie include two). All of that aside, this is a splendid recording of these fascinating works, stretching from Handel's early years (around 1708) to the early 1750s. Handel was, for the most part, immersed in vocal music for most of his career, and these sonatas sing; most of the violin parts are aria-like and occasionally, with the harpsichord, we could be in the presence of a vocal duet. Here, our soloists get into the music and reach for its core, with Christie's harpsichord (or organ in a pair of the sonatas) taking a more improvisational role. The playing of both soloists throughout is exceptional, and the recorded sound makes for a nice, intimate experience. --Robert Levine
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My one gripe with this EMI/Virgin disc is that it is copy protected, and therefore not a Red Book standard Audio CD. To be fair, it makes no false claims to be such, just that the disc is "designed to be compatible with CD audio players" etc. This statement is in very, very small writing which I can just read with my new glasses! I wonder why.
For me, the immediate result is that I cannot play a copy of this recording in my car CD player, which I regard as a significant infringement of my rights as a legitimate, and in future more wary, purchaser.
With "Handel" violin sonatas, authorship is an issue, and may be of interest to some, since a few of what might be called the "non-Handel" sonatas, originally published in his name, remain in the repertoire, and are naturals for filler on discs such as this, despite their unknown origins. I am no expert, but here is my understanding.
Kurosaki/Christie play the five sonatas generally accepted as authentic Handel, plus two probably by another hand (A major Op 1 #10, HWV 372; and F major Op 1 #12, HWV 370, both identified in the booklet as from the "Roger" edition).
By comparison, Manze/Egarr (Harmonia Mundi) add three sonatas (F major "Walsh" Op 1 #12; A major "Roger" Op 1 #10 and E major "Roger" Op 1 # 12), and two single movement fragments, to the canonical five sonatas (except the G minor is HWV 364a here, and HWV 364 on the older disc).
Apart from the correspondence in key and timing, there is no doubt that Kurosaki/Christie's "Roger" Op 1 #12 is the same music as Manze/Egarr's "Walsh" Op 1 #12, and different from Manze/Egarr's "Roger" Op 1 #12.
Confused? So am I...
There are at least three performances of these sonatas available on CD at this time, a bonanza of musical choice. In addition to this performance by Hiro Kurosaki and Bill Christie, there's another by Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr, and yet another by violinist Rachal Barton. Each CD has attractions; you might use the "sample" function of amazon before you choose, for choose you must!
Kurosaki's violin playing is more varied, more imaginative, and (dare I say) more baroque. However, Christie's harpsichord continuo, though utterly authentic, is occasionally rather sparse, hardly a partnership with the violin at all.
Manze plays the four sonatas which he regards as genuine Handel masterworks very masterfully indeed. Manze is not the subtlest of baroque fiddlers; I'd love to hear what Biondi or Holloway would do. Also, he pays scant respect to those other sonatas that he clearly regards as inauthentic Handel. He plays them perfunctorily and with occasional lapses of tuning. Richard Egarr's harpsichord continuo is expressive and solid throughout.
The chief attraction of Rachel Barton's performance is that the continuo is enriched by the cello of JM Rozendaal. Not to denigrate Ms Barton's fiddling! She plays wonderfully, but perhaps less specially than Manze or Kurosaki.
All in all, you can't go wrong with any of the three. Trust your own ears.