Did you have music lessons at school? Then perhaps you learned to play the recorder, this very basic woodwind instrument. Well, the recorder is more than just a school instrument for children. It has been in use as a music instrument in its own right since the Middle Ages up to the Baroque period, when it enjoyed a wide popularity. Georg Friedrich Händel has written several sonatas for recorder and basso continuo*. And they are worth to be known a little better.
Händel’s concert works “Water Music” and “Music for the Royal Fireworks” certainly are his most popular work, but are they representative for his musical genius? I don’t think so. Pieces for soloists, like Händel’s keyboard suites, and chamber music reveal the true talent of a composer and the performing musicians. Compositions lacking structure, harmony or internal coherence will not appeal to the audience and quickly be forgotten. Händel’s recorder sonatas are of a simple structure as befits the limited range of the recorder, but still have a very Baroque melodiousness.
I discovered Händel’s chamber music only recently and as far as the sonatas for recorder are concerned, here are my favourites: the Recorder Sonata in A Minor, op. 1 No. 4, HWV 362, Recorder Sonata in F Major, op. 1 No. 11, HWV 369 and Recorder Sonata in D Minor, op. 1 No. 8a, HWV 367a. They have been recorded in 2002 by the Academy of St. Martins in the Fields and the Danish musician Michala Petri. She gives Händel’s sonatas a very pure and delicate sound, and you can easily imagine a Baroque gathering of dancers in opulent dresses in some German or Austrian ball room.
Throughout her career Petri has continuously sought to expand the possibilities of the recorder and embarked on many crossover projects. Besides championing a historically informed performance* she had recorders built along her own specifications to perform Romantic or contemporary classical works on the recorder. “Music is the essence, not the instrument – for me it happens to be the recorder”, she once said. “My goal is the best possible musical expression.”
© Charles Thibo