Handel: Water Music Suites

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WORKS: Handel: Water Music Suites; Rodrigo-Overture
PERFORMER: Les musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski


With no extant score, the order of the movements in Handel’s Water Music is conjectural. Marc Minkowski, like others, presents a full Suite in F and two briefer collections in G and D. This highlights the question of whether the quiet G major music would be audible on the Thames, crowded with noisy boats accompanying George I’s river party or, rather, meant to delight the King’s ear during supper at Chelsea.

It’s beautifully played, from the pensive, tastefully ornamented solo flute of the first movement to the Menuet’s recorder, strings and gently unequal rhythms of continuo lute. 

The opening Suite is splendid, from fine blasts of robust natural horns (if played at Whitehall, audible, I’d imagine, in Chelsea) to yearning woodwind, then strings, in the minor-key penultimate movement – a masterpiece of harmonic simplicity. Contemporary accounts suggest there were around 50 musicians performing on their barge alongside that of the King.

Minkowski fields almost that number but, though the sound is weighty enough to suit the open air, his spirited players achieve a lightness of touch, even with 25 strings, and doubled horns and oboes. Some tempos are puzzling – a hectically fast Menuet, an unusually slow ‘Lentement’. The Ouverture to Rodrigo, an eight-movement Suite in its own right, is an enjoyable bonus. 


Nothing beats Andrew Manze’s spectacular reconstruction of the event on DVD (Opus Arte, OA 0930 D) but, like-for-like, Minkowski’s is an excellent offering. George Pratt