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Brook Street Band

The award-winning Brook Street Band is delighted to launch its tenth recording for AVIE records. 'Handel: Sonatas for Violin and Basso Continuo' (AV2387) will be released on 1 June 2018.

Cellist and director Tatty Theo says: 'Over recent years The Brook Street Band has performed and recorded much of Handel's instrumental chamber music. After our 2016 release of 'Handel Trio Sonatas for two violins and basso continuo' (which completed our survey of the complete Handel trio sonatas), it seemed the natural progression to explore the violin sonatas. These are pieces which we've known and loved and have played together for the past twenty years. They are also pieces with a complicated composition and publication history, which needed a little bit of detective work in unpicking!'

The recording contains all the violin sonatas which carried Handel's name during his lifetime, and presents a vibrant picture of musical life and some of the musicians in Rome and London, the two cities where Handel was living at the time of the works' composition. In contrast to this, the setting for the four days of recording sessions was the beautiful Great Barn at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk UK, and The Brook Street Band was inspired by the building's historic atmosphere and the quality of the stunning and tranquil Norfolk light.

For a composer as well known as George Frideric Handel, the history of his violin sonatas is extremely complicated. There is no definitive answer to the question 'how many violin sonatas did he actually compose?': it rather depends whom you ask, and when. The first complete edition of Handel's works, assembled and published by Friedrich Chrysander in the late nineteenth century, ascribes nine works to the violin. Stanley Sadie (writing in 1971) attributed only seven to Handel, and Terence Best (in 1982) only five. The problem stems from the lack of autograph manuscripts. Of the nine sonatas presented on this disc, only five can be supported by the existence of an autograph manuscript.

Despite the missing autograph manuscripts for four of the pieces, The Brook Street Band also 'politely' suggests the firm possibility that Handel could have composed these sonatas. The fact that no autograph manuscript survives isn't indicative one way or the other. In many respects, the music is so Handelian in style, including its use of particular keys, and typical in so many melodic and harmonic aspects, that Handel could easily have been the composer. He was certainly happy to have them published in London in the 1730s under his name!

The Brook Street Band has also considered who the works might have been composed for, spanning an unusually long period of forty years. In particular, the D major violin sonata (whose autograph manuscript graces the cover of the CD booklet and is reproduced inside) is somewhat enigmatic. It is justifiably one of Handel's most famous sonatas, but composed circa 1750, long after any other chamber music, towards the end of Handel's life. Why was this? Why did Handel compose it then? Was it written for a special player? BSB cellist Tatty Theo considers these questions and takes steps to unravel the mystery within the accompanying CD booklet.

These are stunning works, showing the development of a musical genius, and allowing us an insight into the domestic music-making scene, putting names and faces to the characters that surrounded Handel and who might have been the intended recipients of this wonderful music.

Violinist Rachel Harris writes: 'I love playing these works - they are brilliantly crafted, and conjure up a vivid picture of musical life in Handel's London. It has been fun to research and imagine who might have performed the pieces during Handel's lifetime, and breathe new life into these pieces. Everyone always loves a good detective story!'

Handel himself left ambiguous instructions as to whether the pieces should have harpsichord accompaniment, or both harpsichord and a bowed bass, such as the cello. Early publications of the works from the 1730s differ in their specifications. Handel's own autographs contain changes, mistakes and re-workings (as you'll see from the CD's cover); if something isn't stated, it doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't intended. Handel would have assumed his musicians to be familiar with the conventions of the times.

Harpsichordist Carolyn Gibley writes: 'We decided to record all nine sonatas with the continuo accompaniment of both cello and harpsichord throughout. This rich continuo instrumentation enables us to closely match Handel's melodic and harmonic lines, helping us to highlight and mirror the conversational and often equal dialogue between the parts, so typical in Handel's gorgeous and sensual writing.'

Since its formation in 1996 by baroque cellist Tatty Theo, The Brook Street Band has established itself as one of the country's foremost interpreters of Handel's music. The name comes from the street in London's Mayfair where George Frideric Handel lived and composed for most of his working life.


Posted: 16 April 2018

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