Handel: Water Music Suite No. 1; Water Music Suite No. 2; Water Music Suite No. 3; Music for the Royal Fireworks

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Water Music Suite No. 1; Water Music Suite No. 2; Water Music Suite No. 3; Music for the Royal Fireworks
PERFORMER: Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921606
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of his ensemble Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet has gathered 116 musicians under his baton for performances of what he calls the ‘first historical version’ of the Water Music and Fireworks Music. But Handel himself probably had less than half this number at his disposal for his performance of the Water Music when the Elector of Hanover arrived in London as George I in 1717. Handel’s requirements for the Royal Fireworks Music performance are more precisely documented and Niquet has indeed come up with the composer’s nine trumpets, nine horns, three pairs of kettledrums, 24 oboes, 12 bassoons and contrabassoon. But I’m not so sure about the use of the little rattle in the concluding Gigue of the Water Music.

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Never mind, it’s all good fun, even if they aren’t the most convincing versions to be found. Some of the movements come across in what the diarist John Evelyn might have termed the ‘French fantastical light way’, with lengthy appoggiaturas and distinctive emphases. But, interesting though this can be, none of the music makes as much impact as performances by Trevor Pinnock (DG Archiv), John Eliot Gardiner (Philips), Christopher Hogwood (Decca L’Oiseau-Lyre) or Neville Marriner (Hänssler). These all bring out the humour in Handel’s music and its distinctive gracefulness, both of which I found lacking in Niquet’s ambitious re-creation.

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The new issue has pleasing features, and startling ones, too – readers may be intrigued, even excited by the natural harmonics of nine Baroque horns. But my first recommendations remain with home-grown products. Nicholas Anderson