The opportunity to hear the Opus 1 of this great Baroque composer led me to request this set for review, and I have not been sorry to spend time with it. Although Handel is more commonly associated with concerted instrumental works, oratorios and operas, these intimate sonatas -- variously for violin, flute, recorder and oboe with harpsichord accompaniment -- are charming works that show us a skilled and imaginative composer from the earliest days. The CD booklet discusses various issues of authorship, and scholars of the period may be concerned about those details. But for most of us, this set's appeal lies in the animated performances heard throughout.
The cover, which credits The Academy of Ancient Music led by Richard Egarr, is somewhat misleading. While all four of these fine musicians are associated with that marvelous period-instrument ensemble, and Egarr often leads them (as in the recently reviewed set of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos), there is no tutti here. I guess the AAM brand name might increase the box-office potential of this release.
As I would expect from musicians of this pedigree, the playing is gorgeous -- by turns vivacious and serene. Here and there I hear passages reminiscent of later, better-known compositions. But in general these quiet, well-crafted pieces do not call attention to themselves, although they have sufficient substance to reward careful listening. And the recorded sound, as usual from this label, is crystal-clear, capturing vividly within an appropriate acoustic the timbres of the period instruments.
The appeal of this set will be to lovers of 18th-century music, especially those who are curious about the composer's earliest work. As I have mentioned in the past when reviewing such collections, I suggest playing no more than a couple of these sonatas at a single session. Otherwise, one runs the risk of letting the music become aural wallpaper. The composer and performers deserve better than that!