This recording of Handel's opus 1 solo sonatas is nothing short of superb. It is easily one of the best performed and well recorded set I've heard to date. It's expensive, but all it takes is one listen to find out why.
This set of the opus 1 Handel pieces is part of the "Handel opus number" series recordings recently produced by the Harmonia Mundi label by the Academy of Ancient Music under the new direction of Richard Egarr. These recordings are setting new standards for performance and sonic characteristics, and this release is among the best of the series, although in truth, they've all been excellent. The performances are exquisite, played with detail and precision, and the Academy of Ancient Music really shows what they are capable of in this set.
Most Handel lovers have become highly acquainted with the Gardener, Pinnock, and Hogwood sets from the 1980's and 90's, and the majority of these recordings are also excellent. But when we recoil at the high cost of these new recordings, we have to remember that the Gardiner, Hogwood, and Pinnock series recordings were also very expensive upon release, and when adjusted for inflation, may have been even more than these current recordings. The advances in recording technology since that time has been substantial, however, and these recordings show it. This particular recording of the opus 1 pieces is exceptionally clear and crisp, with a sonic soundstage that is as impressive as it is enjoyable.
These solo sonatas here are for flute, recorder, oboe, and violin. The pieces show Handel's consummate skill at counterpoint, and although he is often compared against Bach's "introverted" counterpoint, these pieces show that Handel was every bit the master of the form. There is a relaxed beauty to these pieces that is difficult to describe. (Of course, it helps that the recording itself is of the highest caliber: this is what brings the realism of the pieces to the fore of the experience.) We also witness, as we frequently do with Handel, his "borrowing" from other pieces he wrote, but not simply borrowing, but "repurposing," for Handel often takes the segment and makes it work in entirely new ways.
As with every recording in this AAM series of Handel's orchestral works (opus 1 through opus 7), this entry easily rates as five stars for the performance, and five stars for the recording. It's a wonderful and masterful addition to the library of Handel recordings. And it's worth every penny.
NOTE: You can listen to the samples within the Amazon web page to get an idea of this recording, but I caution the listener to understand that the low bit rate of these samples cannot convey the true sonic beauty of the recording. You simply have to listen to the actual CD-ROM, or a very high bit rate rip of the disk, on a good set of headphones to really appreciate the sonic characteristics. It's truly a masterpiece.
Other Disks in the AAM's Handel-Opus-Number Series:
Trio Sonatas Opp. 2 & 5
Handel: Concerti Grossi, Op. 3; Sonata a 5
Handel: Organ Concertos, Op. 4 [Hybrid SACD]
Handel - Concerti grossi, op. 6 / AAM * Manze
Handel: Organ Concertos Op. 7