Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351)
Water Music (HWV 348-50)
Recorded in 2002.
Released in 2003.
Boston Baroque (on period instruments)
Martin Pearlman, director
This recording is highly recommended. The Fireworks Music with this orchestra and this director endow all the movements with a most attractive sound. Even with inferior orchestras, this music plays itself, but Pearlman's players unashamedly enjoy themselves, and their extrovert, rather than scholarly, playing infectiously invites us to delight with them. The first chord of the overture on the bassoons announces a sombre grandeur as Pearlman adopts a stately pace, much slower than I have heard this movement for some time; with the commitment and grace that his players provide it seems just right. The trumpets and horns are distanced from the strings, a bonus because their placing and the quality of the recording enrich the music's sense of spaciousness. The whole disc is a treat of string and brass balance. The second violin and viola parts can be heard throughout both works. The bassoons take full advantage of every opportunity to provide a mournful but glowing plangency to the orchestral sounds, and a serpent adds to the euphony.
The second movement of the overture is exciting, while the Lentement adopts a cheeky, Frenchified unequal-note execution of the semiquavers, which is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the piece and encapsulates the way in which Boston Baroque makes these oh-so familiar orchestral warhorses seem playful, almost skittish. The first Menuet movement introduces a delightfully delicate touch amidst a context of so much manly music. The final Menuet has zip and energy, but is not given enough solemnity for my liking – there was a national anthem in the making here, surely.
The Water Music is played as a three-suite set, and very enjoyable it proves when played like this. Like the Fireworks Music, it does not aspire to be profound music: it was the high-art muzak of its time for ostentatious royal events. Those who were present were there to do something else rather than concentrate on the music. Having said which, the music does not lack intimate moments. Pearlman's musicians judged decoration endue the movements with a sprightly panache. The oboe provides Hornpipe dances with Boston Baroque's catchy syncopations. In the G major Suite the flute decorations are pleasant, and these movements gain a bucolic, rustic interpretation. It's good to hear the harpsichord in the continuo. The famous air is played with delicacy and grace, while the Bourrée sounds fresh at each repeat, and the inner parts being clearly heard enliven the D major Suite, revealing Handel's frequently overlooked wit in the countermelodies.
This is recording shoots straight to the top of my favourite recordings of these works. It is every bit as interesting and rewarding as those by Mackerras and Pinnock, though these are admittedly more exciting. Buy this one for its captivating charm. You should not be disappointed.
© Les Robarts - March 2003
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