ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks
PERFORMER: Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557764
This bargain disc brings together Handel’s two best-known orchestral works, both conceived for open-air performance and both containing a never-ending succession of strongly profiled and immediately memorable numbers. Here, the playing of the period-instrument orchestra is straightforwardly good, with a few minor blemishes (Baroque horns and trumpets are not the easiest of musical beasts to control), and though occasionally too brisk to make maximum effect – the thrilling Fireworks Overture being a case in point – the tempos chosen by the Irish conductor Kevin Mallon generally work well. What is sometimes missing interpretatively is a sense of the music’s character – vital in works that are essentially assemblages of attractive but disparate elements. Exactly how Handel selected and compiled these suites intended for courtly and popular entertainment we don’t know, but presumably part of his intention was to ensure that every piece was a winner. Good as these performances are, and presented in enjoyably vivid sound, that’s not quite how we experience them here.
Surprisingly, perhaps, these two items are not regularly programmed together on CD, and of a number of versions available several use modern instruments, which is not ideal in this repertoire. But of current alternative couplings, albeit at higher price, Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque provide consistent musical and sonic pleasure. George Hall