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Edinburgh International Festival 2009 (7) - Handel and Marais: Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall (conductor), Usher Hall, 20.8.2009 (SRT)

Handel: Water Music Suites, Music for the Royal Fireworks
Marais: Music from Alcione

Trust Jordi Savall to bring a touch of Latin spice to that most English of institutions, Handel’s Water Music. Renowned for his fresh approach, Savall conducted the youngest of his ensembles in the Usher Hall (Hesperion XXI also make a Queen’s Hall appearance at the Festival). The sound of Le Concert des Nations is distinctively lean and flexible: while fully under Savall’s control, you get the impression that the music could career off in any direction at a moment’s notice. There were all sorts of special touches that honed their approach and gave their Handel a unique flavour: carefully pointed phrases shaped to draw out an aspect of the score you perhaps hadn’t noticed before, lithely sprung rhythms, a trill held for an instant longer than you had expected, or an instrument drawn to the front of the texture lending a colour you weren’t expecting. An arsenal of these techniques went further than ever in reminding us that the Water Music is, above all, a collection of dances. Instrumental virtuosity of the highest order goes without saying, though the loudest ovations of the evening were reserved for the horns and trumpeters.

The selections from Marais’ opera Alcione were noticeably French in the swagger of their rhythms, especially the Airs des Matelots which sounded almost syncopated. They were rounded off with a marvellously varied chaconne, via some atmospheric and vigorously convincing storm music, complete with on-stage wind machine. The Fireworks Music was as well honed as the Water: if La Paix had a rather ragged opening then it was compensated by a well-balanced pair of Minuets. The two encores were special treats: La Rejouissance from Bach’s fourth orchestral suite and the famous contredanse from Rameau’s Les Boreades, where the audience was encouraged to join in by clapping, a whirlwind end to a masterly evening.

This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 15th September. The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 6th September at venues across the city. For full details go to

Simon Thompson


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