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George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Water Music Suite I in F Major HWV 348 (1717) [26:32]
Water Music Suite II in D Major HWV 349 (1717) [10:01]
Water Music Suite III in G Major HWV 350 (1717) [8:09]
Sinfonia in B Flat Major HWV 339 (?) [9:51]
Sinfonia in B Flat Major HWV 347 (1747) [7:45]
Concerto Köln/Anton Steck
rec. Studio Stolberger Strasse, Köln, 13 – 16 May 2007
Experience Classicsonline

There is no surviving autograph score for Handel’s Water Music so performers have to rely on various manuscript versions.

There are three standard suites which can be extracted from the surviving scores: they all are scored for oboes, bassoons and strings with additions in the in F major one including horns; the D major which includes horns and trumpets; and G major which includes transverse flute and recorder.  It was probably performed for the first time on 17th July 1717 on a trip down the Thames by King George I  from Westminster to Chelsea.

Concerto Koln comprise a small band of 5 first violins; 4 second violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos and 2 double basses; 1 flute, 2 oboes, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets; and harpsichord continuo and usually perform without a conductor .  The accounts of the trip talk about 50 musicians, so these performers are about half the original size. 

The suite in F major is played with good sense of style and although there are very few dynamics in the score they use their innate intelligence to make the music come alive. Many of the movements are marked with repeats which are always differentiated to give added interest. 

A couple of things to note; in the second movement Adagio e Staccato the oboe melody is ornamented so elaborately that the shape of the simple tune is lost. Compare it with the performance by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – a similar sized band – and see how the tune played with the minimum of ornamentation has more impact.  In the Air no 6 we get the variant for harpsichord first, then the more familiar setting for orchestra. 

The suite in D major is next, and, with the inclusion of trumpets, is the ‘brightest’ of the three suites.  This is played with great sparkle and accuracy with some breakneck speeds, and all the repeats.  Each repetition is different either in orchestral mix or level or ornamentation. 

The G major suite has a much subdued feel to it without the brass and with the inclusion of the flute.  Indeed, this is thought to be the music intended to be played while the guests dined.  In this performance I feel that the speeds in this suite are just a touch too hasty, and they don’t quite relish the change in atmosphere for these gentler pieces.  The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra are much more satisfying in this. 

In all, a fine performance of the Water Music which is sensitive to the period style and played with panache.  I always prefer the G major suite played second and this performance is so good I’d be prepared to spend the time programming the payer to get it in the ‘right’ order – my little foible! 

The Water Music is usually coupled with the Music for the Royal Fireworks (as on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra disc) but here the ‘fillers’ are two Sinfonia, both in B flat major.  These three movement pieces are an absolute delight and complement the Water Music handsomely. 

The composition date for the first is not known, but it has been preserved for posterity thanks to two copies made by other people - one being the composer Christoph Graupnet - who met the 21 year old Handel just before he left Hamburg for Italy.  The resemblance of the theme in the first movement of an introduction to an aria from Handel’s first opera Almira allows us to date it to this period.

From the second, composed in 1747,  he borrowed a section for the introductory music to Joshua, and in it are elements borrowed from George Phillipe Telemann and George Muffat.  Handel was the inveterate recycler!

There is a booklet in German and English with a full track-listing, information about the performers and music.

In all a very enjoyable disc with the added surprise of two lesser known pieces, and certainly one to which I will return regularly.

Arther Smith 



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