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Georg Friedrich HÄNDEL (1685-1759)
Water Music (1717) [49.01]
Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749) [17.01]
Ensemble L’Arte dell’Arco on period instruments/Federico Guglielmo
rec. Auditorium di Chiuppano (VI), Italy, 12-14 October 2004
Booklet notes in German, English, French and Italian.
CPO 7773122 [66.05]
Experience Classicsonline

On the German CPO website, this CD of Händel’s two most popular orchestral works, is introduced by a question: Mit einer Neueinspielung der Wasser- und Feuerwerksmusik von G. Fr. Händel noch jemanden hinter dem Ofen hervorlocken - geht das? – which more or less means: ‘is a new recording of Händel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks still capable of luring anybody to sit by the fire and listen to it?’ My first reaction when I received the CD, was that no, nobody will be attracted to buy yet another recording of the same two “over” performed works. However, once I listened to it the first time, I must confess that I changed my mind and answered CPO’s question with a resounding “yes”, even though I am not a fan of Baroque orchestral music in general and Händel’s in particular. I much prefer his operas, which are true masterpieces of the period and appeal more to my personal musical taste. 

Both Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks were works devised to be played out of doors, scored to ensembles with large numbers of woodwinds and brasses, which would have a greater impact on an open-air performance. When he wrote Water Music in 1717, Händel had already been living in England for approximately five years and was well acquainted with the taste of the English public. The set of suites that form Water Music are little gems with delicately sculpted music and subtle orchestral writing, which the composer perfectly mastered. Händel composed this set of short, festive pieces for a party given by King George I on the margins of the Thames on 17th July 1717, hence, from the time of their publication, they became known as “Water Music”.

Music for the Royal Fireworks was composed much later and resulted from a special commission. Händel was asked to write music to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that ended the Austrian Succession War in 1748. As such, the work had to be grandiose, dazzling and spectacular. Händel did not disappoint. Music for the Royal Fireworks consists of five movements, the first being a majestic overture, followed by a lively bourrée, then a quieter, peaceful movement, suitably named La Paix, immediately followed by the most famous part, the sparkling La Rejouissance; the piece then ends with two minuets.

This CD does not bring out anything as yet undiscovered about Händel’s music, however what it does do is delight with a very fine performance of two of his most popular and enduring works. The celebrated Italian ensemble, L’Arte dell’Arco, founded by Federico Guglielmo who also performs and conducts, play on period instruments. They manage to give the pieces a fresh treatment, performing with great clarity and delicacy. Their version is not one that would sound good outdoors but one suited instead to an intimate concert hall, a more traditional combination of strings and winds, evenly distributed and well balanced. They play with precision and obvious care, perfectly conveying the festive, rejoicing character of Händel’s music while expressing their own pleasure in delivering it. Their interpretation is remarkably genuine, partly due to the period instruments but mostly to the individual commitment of each of the ensemble’s members to follow what they believe the composer would have wanted to hear. The group excels in both works but their performance of Music for the Royal Fireworks was my favourite. The delivery of each movement is thoughtful, yet brimming with spontaneity, and their interpretation of the most celebrated (and the most performed) of all the movements, La Rejouissance, is luminous, suitably glorious and demonstrative of immense joy. I felt almost as if I were listening to the work for the very first time, which in itself is an incredible achievement.

The notes on the booklet accompanying the CD also deserve to be mentioned. They were written by Federico Guglielmo, director and founder of L’Arte dell’Arco. He describes the concept of the recording and how he and the ensemble view the music and their interpretation. This is set against the historical background of the time when Händel composed the pieces, with extracts of reports from contemporary newspapers. It makes not only for informative, interesting but also entertaining reading.

The sound on the CD is excellent throughout and great care was taken in recording, editing and engineering. It will be excellent no matter where it is heard but if one has SACD equipment, this hybrid disc becomes even more of a treat. It has a crystalline quality and a brilliance of sound that make the pieces distinctively beautiful and effectively soothing. So, if I may return to the initial question on the CPO German website: ‘is a new recording of Händel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks still capable of luring anybody to sit by the fire and listen to it?’ – I will have to say most emphatically that it certainly is, particularly on some dark, depressingly cold and damp winter night. It will warm you even without a fire!

Margarida Mota-Bull


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