Handel's violin sonatas, familiar to violinists and chamber audiences, have been inexplicably neglected on disc. These intimate, inviting sonatas show the seldom-heard side of Handel's genius. The violin sonatas span Handel's long career, from the early, Corelli-inspired G Major Sonata, HWV358 (c. 1706-8) to the exciting Sonata in D major (c. 1750). On the CD, the works are sequenced for a pleasing progression of key relationships and mood changes. The CD opens and closes with sonatas that are authentically Handel's and written expressly for violin: the Sonata in A Major (HWV371), notable for its virtuosic treatment of violin and continuo parts and its noble melodic lines. Handel's last violin sonata, it's widely considered his masterpiece in the genre. Scholars agree that some sonatas were erroneously attributed to Handel. Three of these are included in the program (HWV368, 370, and 372). "Regardless of authorship, they are very beautiful and well worth playing and hearing," cellist Rozendaal writes in the CD booklet. Another, the Sonata in E major (HWV373) is excluded, "not because of its questionable authorship but because of its inferior quality," he adds. The program also includes several fine (and authentic) pieces from the 1724-26 period: the Sonatas in d-minor (HWV359a) and g-minor (HWV364a), the a-minor Andante (HWV412) and the c-minor Allegro (HWV408) These performances are "historically informed," employing a combination of 18th-century and modern practices and equipment. Ms. Barton plays a 1617 Amati violin, in "modern" condition with steel strings. Mr. Rozendaal plays a 1740 cello in restored Baroque condition with gut strings. The bows used are reproductions of 18th-century models. Mr. Schrader plays a 1983 US-built harpsichord based on one in the museum of the Conservatoire National de Paris.
Few contemporary performers are comfortable with the idea of adding embellishments in Baroque music. The practice is scarce even among early music specialists, and scarcer in the mainstream. Yet here is a nonspecialist violinist who plays Handel's music with tremendous temperament and flair, and also adds convincing and imaginative embellishments to all her repeats. With two excellent partners, Rachel Barton has given us an edition of Handel's Violin Sonatas that is one of the more gratifying recordings of Baroque violin music in the current catalogs. This music is hardly overexposed, so such a fine new recording is extremely welcome. --Leslie Gerber