The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: Tatty Theo (cello) Carolyn Gibley (harpsichord)
Taking as her precedent the arrangements made by Baroque composers to maximise income from their compositions, Carolyn Gibley has transcribed six of Handel’s sonatas for recorder and continuo to form cello sonatas. Anyone who knows the original works will appreciate how drastic that transformation is, with the replacement of the wind instrument’s sprightly tone by the more weighty string sound and a change of the whole ethos of the original score.
Turn to Pamela Thorby’s recording of the originals (Linn) and you will realise how much joy and happiness evaporates in this cello adaptation. It is not a matter of tempo, for the individual movement timings in this recording are not that different, but the cello version just sounds slower.
The performances come from two members of the Brook Street Band, a group establishing itself at the cutting edge of period authenticity. Tatty Theo’s Baroque cello, made by Joseph Hill in London around 1741, has that pungent quality of a gut-strung instrument, weighty at the bottom and strident at the top end. Her left-hand agility copes well with the fast-flowing finales while shaping slow movements with as much beauty as her instrument permits. If the church ambience and the absence of vibrato magnify intonation blemishes, the playing is always well versed in Handel’s musical language and thoughtfully presented.
The recorded balance places the harpsichord accompaniment to the rear and is easily dominated by the cello.