Academy of Ancient Music, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

A concert comprising eight Handel chamber sonatas, one after another,might be thought a bit of a mixed blessing. He himself seems to have regarded them as incidental to his operatic and ceremonial music, circulating them only in manuscript.

It was a piratical publisher whofirst bundled two dozen of them together as Handel’s Op 1 and 2.

Whether Op 1 solo sonatas or Op 2 trio sonatas, all of them fall into the standard baroque slow-fastslow- fast four-movement format (although, on this occasion, the Trio Sonata in F major Op 2 No 4 seemed mysteriously to have acquired a fifth movement).

But even when working within the most routine conventions, Handel is never to be taken for granted. None of these pieces lack ingenuities or surprises – a flute line that spirals into a jagged chromaticism in the finale of the Sonata in E minor Op 1 No 1, for instance, or the dramatic stops and starts that punctuate the second slow movement of Op 2 No 4.

This is very much players’ music, to make of it what they will. Here, the centre of excitement was the Academy of Ancient Music’s director, Richard Egarr, not only realising the harpsichord part with florid spontaneity, but responding with supple flexibility to the nuances of his expressive continuo cellist Joseph Crouch, and to the phrasing of his three soloists: the leading baroque violinists Pavlo Beznosiuk and Rodolfo Richter, and the tireless young baroque flute and recorder virtuoso, Rachel Brown. Rarely has one heard this music brought to life with such a feeling of consensual freedom.

And that feeling, in turn, refocused attention on the quality of the music itself. To hear the overlapping lines of Beznosiuk and Richter in the concluding Trio Sonata in G minor Op 2 No 5, as they varied and decorated their responses tooneanother over the flow and drive of the continuo, was also to hear how resourcefully Handel avoids the automatic sequences of,say, a Vivaldi. He achieves thisbyirregularity of phrase structure and variety of texture within the tightest of conventions – and hence retains his power to hold and delight a large audience throughout this concert.

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