Riccardo Minasi performs along with Marco Ceccato, Guilia Nuti, and Luca Pianca (Musica Antiqua Roma) the sonatas for violin and continuo by George Frederick Handel. * HWV 361 * HWV 364a * HWV 370 * HWV 359a * HWV 358 * HWV 371 * HWV 372 * HWV 375 The only other "complete" set I have to compare Minasi's with is the one by Andrew Manze with Richard Egarr. This is stiff competition, considering Manze's Handel was a favorite of mine; perhaps it was Manze's second-best disc in this type of solo repertoire after his reading with Egarr of Arcangelo Corelli's sonatas. And my good feeling about his reading of Handel had as much to do with Mr. Egarr as it did Manze. MAR's recording is closer-miked than the one from Manze, but I found the recording quality to be superior, perhaps in part, because it felt as if a layer had been removed between the performers and us, the listeners. In the opening sonata in A, Minasi is joined by cello and harpsichord. Ms. Nuti is a good claveniste, but she's not as "busy" or inventive as Egarr. She takes a back seat, in fact, to Mr. Ceccato on violoncello. But this balance serves the music well. And I didn't have to get far into the CD to admit I prefer the violin tone of Minasi over Manze's. Promise by the end of the first sonata. MAR opens the second sonata, in G minor (my favorite key, incidentally), with the full compliment, lute, cello, and harpsichord. This is a luxurious combination, but the continuo really takes back seat to Minasi's reading of the solo line. His tone, his ability at ornamentation, and the dynamic contrasts all show his Italian flair for milking the music for all of its baroque Affekt. This is why I like his playing - he's cut from the same cloth as his friend Enrico Onofri. That second movement of HWV 364, takes off with a toe-tapping tempo, all the violin playing clean and clear, complete with some fantastic little runs and accents that help distinguish this professional from the rest. MAR owns the style here, turning Handel into the son of Corelli (if not the son, perhaps his nephew). I must credit the entire ensemble, for Pianca emerges on some honey notes with real punch. HWV 364 has an interesting ending, with hardly any room for the soloist "to breathe." Minasi contrasts the repeats by going first soft, then the second time around, at full tilt. It may sound easy, but getting such even speech from the instrument, and consistent pressure with bowing I imagine has its challenges. The end in a flash, it seems, but it's done in such a way to leave us smiling. Mr. Ceccato takes his turn with "attitude" in the first allegro of HWV 359a. I love that each member of the ensemble is allowed to emerge from the "texture," even if it's the violinist with an aggressive double-stop. That always works. In HWV 371, MAR drop the cellist and lutenist, and go it alone with the duo of harpsichord and violin. Here balance is just a little concerning to me. Minasi's playing is aggressive in the balance of the instruments; having heard him in person, I think the balance issue is unnatural and could have been corrected by the engineers. Compared to Manze's recording with Egarr, the earlier recording the two players are better balanced and the texture ends up sounding fuller with Egarr's "cheat" of doubling the bass in parts by using octaves. Handel's HWV 375 is an odd bird, channeling Corelli in the use of a contrapuntal form for the second movement, and in the fourth, channeling himself, quoting portions of the Water Music's "country dance." Minasi and Company end with not a sonata, but an aria from Alcina. The sound of both string players is luxuriously rich, with harpsichord sitting out. The cello gets a little solo to begin the piece; and the trio ends the recording on a most melancholy tone. Where do we go for more? It's a fitting end, because the CD has ended, and there's no second disc. Sad. Alas, you can always set it to repeat. This recording is awesome.