Handel: Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks
PERFORMER: London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45265 2
Handel dashed off the 12 Concerti grossi, Op. 6, during an inspired five-week spell in the autumn of 1739. Though based on the traditional Corellian model still popular in England at the time, the concertos reveal the breadth of Handel’s artistry. Their mélange of elements from the French overture, the Italian concerto and the German dance-suite are whipped into a dazzling concoction of Handelian grandeur and lyricism.

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Christopher Hogwood’s brisk, no-frills set (L’Oiseau-Lyre) – with its light textures and lithe rhythms – is the pick of the period-instrument versions, though listeners who find his approach a touch ascetic will welcome this new disc from Collegium Musicum 90. Simon Standage adds organ and Handel’s optional oboe parts to the ripieno, thus varying textural colour, and his expressive phrasing squeezes extra tenderness from the slow movements. For me, though, Hogwood still has the edge at speed.

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Roger Norrington’s recording of the ever-delightful Water Music is typically polished and dynamic: brass thrillingly regal, winds exuding seductive charm. The Fireworks Music, though splendidly done too, still pales beside Robert King’s extraordinary version (Hyperion), which recreates the huge outdoor ensemble (24 oboes! 9 horns! 9 trumpets!) used by Handel at the original performance in 1748. Graham Lock