The Unknown Handel

Challenge Classics CC 72015
1 CD
full price
Recorded in 1997
Reissued in 2002

- Miscellaneous ‘Concertos’ and Sonatas -
- Includes HWV 399, 404, 288, 287, 339,

Musica ad Rhenum (on period instruments)
Jed Wentz, traverso & director

Note: Previously released on the Vanguard Classics label (Nr. 99088).

It is debatable how much of this disc is “unknown” Handel, but, aside from that pedantic observation, this is an interesting disc worthy of praise. The acoustic is a little dry, which arguably does not benefit the general lack of legato. Otherwise, this disc is well worth investigating. Since this disc was recorded five years ago, the fine ensemble Musica ad Rhenum has become respected for its delightfully excellent (and inexpensive) series of Mozart’s early operas for Brilliant Classics. Their playing on this older Handel disc is fluent and dynamic, although not always as sufficiently sensitive as would be ideal (for example, in a rather clipped run-through of the opening Andante of the lovely ‘Violin concerto’, HWV 288).

HWV 399, billed here as a “Concerto in G major for 2 traversi, 2 oboes, bassoon, two violins, strings & continuo” promises a sort of Vivaldian exoticism. The actual music is nothing of the kind, but is the trio sonata Opus 5 number 4 (although its opening allegro is best known as the overture to Athalia), fleshed out by Wentz and his competent company. It ought to be made clear that Handel did not envisage the performance of this sonata, or many of the other similar treatments on this disc, to be performed in this semi-orchestral manner. The ‘Concerto in G minor’ for 2 flutes, bassoon, cello and continuo is actually another trio sonata from Opus 5 (number 5b). HWV 404, although billed as a Flute sonata in G minor, is assigned to oboe in Bernd Baselt’s HWV catalogue. Again, one suspects that such issues are not as important as the quality of the music-making itself, although it adds to the impression that this is not so much “The Unknown Handel” as “The Adapted Handel”. The ‘Violin Concerto’ (HWV 288), is perhaps better titled as the ‘Sonata a cinque’, yet it is indeed effectively Handel’s only concerto for a solo string instrument, and another engaging performance of this little gem is always welcome.

Recent research by Terence Best has confirmed the historical validity of performing the 3rd Oboe Concerto in G minor (HWV 287) with flute solo instead of oboe, and this gives Jed Wentz an opportunity to shine as soloist. Flutes are also given extra parts in the Sinfonia for strings and continuo in B flat major (HWV 339), composed in circa 1706-7. The justification for this is found in the booklet note, which states “at the Academy of Handel’s Roman patron, Benedetto Pamphili, two oboists, who occasionally exchanged their instruments for flutes, always played in the ripieno.” That is fair enough, but that does not demonstrate that this practice is relevant to this particular piece (which may in any case pre-date Handel’s acquaintance with Pamphili). Yet Wentz’s approach to the repertoire does demonstrate an attitude of flexibility that is by no means inauthentic. Another work is included on the disc, a “Concerto à quattro in D minor”, that is not listed above. It does not have an entry in the HWV catalogue (to be fair, the booklet note acknowledges that its authenticity is doubtful), so its status as ‘Unknown Handel’ seems irrefutable. Yet the results are perhaps what matters most, and the performance are infectious, bright, and aesthetically astute.

© David Vickers - November 2002

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