Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2005 and the recording is still available.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1750)
Trio Sonatas Op.5
The Brook Street Band
rec. 2005, Raveningham Church, Raveningham, UK
Avie AV2068 [72]

Coincidentally two sets of Handel’s Op.5 Trio Sonatas have come my way in the last few weeks. The London Handel Players recording is on Somm (review) and The Brook Street Band’s is an Avie release. Both are very different. The LHP employ an oboe for three of the sonatas and a viola throughout whereas the BSB keep to two violins, cello and harpsichord/chamber organ. But the major differences are ones of projection, balance, sonority, tonal nuance, phraseology, expressivity and, to be blunt, “getting it across.” This has something to do with rhythmic life, to do with acute accents and above all to do with question of intimacy or more extrovert projections. In all these questions these are pretty much divergent recordings and go to show that, whatever ones preferences, a large range of viewpoints can be exercised in this repertoire.

The Brook Street Band are consummate extroverts; this is not to imply a lack of qualities demanding more intimate reflection but one’s overriding impression is of total engagement and passionate commitment. They make a big sound, encouraged by Avie’s recording, which can tend to the tiring in its directness. But the gains are those of zest and buoyancy, immediately apparent in the Allegro of No.2 and the al fresco quality they impart to the folksy Musette, where the drone effect is pungently realised and the Scottishry is unmistakeable. The band decorate adeptly as well; big gestures, big accents. Many of these recycled movements, which derive from Anthems, Concerto Grossi, oratorio and opera may be familiar from the parent work, or indeed from Beecham’s expert plunder in the 1930s for his own Ballets and orchestral suites derived from them. That’s certainly the case with the March of No.2 – and how well the BSB rip into it. But Handel composed new music as well and there’s always something well worth hearing along the way.

They’re typically incisive with the Fourth. Yes, there’s a lack of really soft dynamics, but the playing’s full of gusto; here the pauses are timed to perfection and there’s fine tonal contrast between the two fiddles, although they do make an awful meal of the final cadence of the opening movement. Colour, motion, pretty deft interplay and fleet tempi mark out more areas of excellence. Maybe the Passacaille lacks commensurate depth but it’s nicely argued nevertheless. I’m not entirely sure as to the textual validity of those plucked accompanying voices under the solo violin in the Minuet or the reprise of the Gigue at the end of the sonata.

Still, they really make the Fugato of the Fifth live and are richly inviting in the Air. They manage to be both forward moving and yet also elastic with the melody of the Seventh Sonata’s Larghetto and paint its second movement with broad, invigorating tonal brush strokes. As with everything they do there are no half measures. I find them intoxicating, sometimes quixotic, but always entertaining guides to the repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf

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