Handel Recorder Sonatas – Keith Jarrett and Michala Petri

The multi-talented Keith Jarrett teams up with recorder virtuoso Michala Petri to present over an hour of perfectly-balanced music for recorder and harpsichord.

Of all the impressive things about this recording, Petri’s flawless technique surely tops the list. All wind-powered instruments are unforgiving of poor technique, but the recorder — which lacks a reed, or valves, or a bell — can make even an accomplished player sound shaky if it is not played … well, perfectly.

Even the slightest fluctuation in the air being blown into the instrument can be magnified into a noticeable ‘bump’ in the tone, not to mention pushing the instrument out of tune.

It is testament to Petri’s mastery of the recorder, then, that not only is her mastery of the instrument’s technical vagaries complete, but that her musicianship, sensitivity and wit shines through in every movement.

The last movement of the opening g-minor sonata will keep you on the edge of your seat as each variation leaves you wondering if she will be able to improve on such complex ornamentation — and it’s not spoiling it to reveal that, yes, she is able to, and she does!

Petri switches to a sopranino recorder for the B-flat major sonata, and the delicacy and fleet-footedness of her playing in the stratospheric reaches of this tiny instrument has to be heard to be believed.

Although Jarrett’s harpsichord provides an underpinning for these sonatas, it would be inaccurate to describe what he does as accompaniment. Instead, this is true collaboration in the way only Baroque continuo players can enjoy, improvising from the provided bass line. His performance is delicate, intelligent and beautifully assured.

Continuo playing is an art in itself. Roger North described it best, perhaps, when he wrote that good continuo is “sometimes striking only the accords … and perpetually observing the emphatick places, to fill, forbear, or adorne with a just favour.”

There’s a real sense of partnership in these performances, and of mutual understanding — from the fastest, riskiest high points to the meditative ornamentation of the slow movements.

The flute virtuoso Quantz wrote “it is a principal Rule with regard to Variations, that they must have a just reference to the plain Air.”

Quantz would have been proud of the performance given by Petri and Jarrett, who never ruin Handel’s writing by over-embellishment, and allow these glorious sonatas to speak (or sing) for themselves.