Handel Sonatas from the Academy of Ancient Music

David Allen 13 October 2007

Fresh from winning a prestigious Gramophone award for a disc of Handel concerti, Richard Egarr began the new Academy of Ancient Music season with an evening of that same composer’s chamber works. Before the concert, Egarr advised us that these pieces ought to come with a health warning: “Beware, composer at play.” The performers taking part here took that as an invitation to enjoy themselves, which resulted in a night of wonderful music making.

The soloists, normally the sectional leaders in the full AAM baroque orchestra, each acquitted themselves spectacularly in solo sonatas from Op.1 and trios from Op.2. The opening piece, a trio for two violins and continuo, sparkled with verve in the quicker movements, maintaining a subtle sense of phrase, yet allowing the two violins to sing out as if in a passionate operatic duet. Rachel Brown showed superb virtuosity in her two solo sonatas for woodwind, matching her stunning quick passages with a beautiful tone.

However, the stars of this show were the AAM’s principal violinist, Pavlo Beznosiuk, and Egarr himself on harpsichord. Beznosiuk, looking remarkably like James May from Top Gear, dazzled in his solo pieces, showing the prodigious talent that earned him the title “Heifetz of The Medieval Fiddle”.

Egarr was equally remarkable throughout, his glittering keyboard work cast off with incredible ease. It was he who really showed off the jollity and enjoyment in this music, moving around dramatically at the keyboard, and sharing knowing glances with the audience. Indeed, the highlight of the evening was the violin sonata in which he and Beznosiuk combined to particular effect, especially in a finale of dubious authenticity that brought chuckles from many listeners.

An excellent evening, then, which bodes well for the next AAM concert, with the legendary Masaaki Suzuki, at the end of the month.

David Allen