This is an interesting and original CD of music performed by three fine Australian soloists. Its originality lies in the fact that the first 15 minutes of the CD feature a transcription of the Musick for the Royal Fireworks ‘set for the German Flute, Violin or harpsichord’ and published by John Walsh. It is not known whether Handel made or approved the transcription, nor is its date of publication known. Handel’s original scoring was for 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, 9 trumpets, 9 French horns, 3 pairs of timpani and side drums. It is therefore initially something of a shock to listen to such a scaled down arrangement as this.
However, the effectiveness of the dance movements, such as the Bourree, Largo alia Siciliana and the Menuets, is immediately apparent in this chamber performance, and after listening to the whole work several times, I found that it formed a cogent and satisfactory whole. In the days before recordings, this intimate arrangement must have been greatly enjoyed, as both listeners and players recalled its exciting and somewhat deafening first performance together with fireworks in London’s Green Park.
The rest of the CD is devoted to Handel’s Sonatas no.2 in G minor, no.4 in A minor, no.7 in C and no. 11 in F, which were published by John Walsh, perhaps in 1732, as ‘Solos for a German Flute, a hoboy or violin with a thorough bass for the harpsichord or bass violin composed by Mr Handel’. In the score, the solo line is designated ‘Flauto Solo’. This is likely to refer to the recorder, and Ruth Wilkinson performs them beautifully on the voice flute, an alto recorder in D. Ruth studied both recorder and viol at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis with Hans-Martin Linde and Jodi Savall; she is well known as a performer and teacher in Australia and beyond.
For all but Sonata no.4, Ruth is sensitively accompanied by viola da gamba as well as harpsichord. Gamba player Miriam Morris is also a fine teacher and performer who has pioneered viol teaching in schools. The viol is not employed in Sonata no.4 because its bass line is unusually detailed and rich, with Handel providing much keyboard figuration. It is suggested in the informative notes that, since Handel was a tutor to the daughter of his patron, King George II, these sonatas may have been used as exemplars for her figured bass practice.
The harpsichord continuo is played by the musicologist and performer John O’Donnell: he is the first person to have performed Bach’s complete keyboard works (for both organ and harpsichord) in public since J S Bach himself- a formidable feat. On this CD the ensemble uses a ‘Bach’ tuning system researched by O’Donnell after his re-interpretation of the scroll found on the title page of the autograph of J S Bach’s Das wohltempierte Klavier.
The sound and balance on this recording is excellent. I recommend this CD, particularly for the performers’ audacious skill in demonstrating how the Musick for the Royal Fireworks, which was the 18 th -century equivalent of a blockbuster, was brought into the living room and the small concert chamber.
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