Harpsichord Works: Volumes 1-3

Vol. 1: 1733 set of suites, HWV 434-439

Sophie Yates – harpsichord

Chandos Chaconne 0644.
Recorded in 1998.

Released in 1999.


Vol. 2: 1720 set, HWV 426-430

Sophie Yates – harpsichord

Chandos Chaconne 0669.
Recorded in 2000 and 2001.

Released in 2001.



 Vol. 3: Remainder of 1720 set, HWV 431-433, and second set HWV 440, 441, 442 (Preludio only)

Sophie Yates – harpsichord

Chandos Chaconne 0688.
Recorded in 2001.

Released in 2002.

With the exception of the final Chaconne of the second set, these discs contain the two sets of suites of 1720 and 1733 which are Handel’s most important keyboard music. It is an impressive achievement, with stylish harpsichord playing and a real sense of the energy and originality of these works. Repeats are taken, mostly with sensible ornamentation which never strays into tastelessness or exaggeration, and notes inégales are introduced in small amounts, especially in the allemandes, and with commendable moderation – a good thing, since we have little evidence about the extent to which Handel was influenced by this practice.

Volume 1 is less successful than the others, as if Sophie Yates had not entirely got into her stride: the noble Chaconne HWV 435, for instance, is somewhat underpowered and lacking in drama and variety of tempo, and this is compounded by the fact that the text used is the old familiar corrupt version published by Walsh, Chrysander and almost everybody else. The huge eight-part Gigue of the G minor suite, HWV 439, on the other hand, is thrillingly played, and the youthful Handel’s exuberance is well caught.

Volumes 2 and 3, whose core is the more mature 1720 set, are much finer, and offer some magnificent performances, particularly in the more dashing pieces, such as the finales of HWV 428, 432, and 433, while in the fugues the part-writing is brought out with splendid clarity.

My main reservation, as already hinted at, is the texts used: they are clearly the original HHA volumes 1 and 2 of the keyboard music. In recent years revised volumes have been issued (vol. 1 in 1993, vol. 2 in 1999), incorporating the results of the most recent research: this is particularly important in volume 2, the 1733 set: two missing movements are restored (the Prelude to HWV 437, the Sarabande of HWV 439) and the text is corrected from the manuscript sources. It may be that the revised second volume came out too late for the first of the present discs, but Sophie Yates could have used the 1993 first volume for discs 2 and 3. Furthermore her liner notes are not very informative, and sometimes incorrect, especially about the complex history of the genesis of the 1733 set. But it is the music and the playing of it which are important, and there can be no doubt about the overall quality of these discs.

Volume 1:

Volumes 2-3:


© Terence Best - November 2002

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