know surprisingly little about the first performance of Handelís
Water Music. Surviving sources are inconsistent about
exactly what happened as the King travelled by barge, dined
and then travelled by barge again; we donít even know what music
was played. No score survives from that event, so we must hazard
a guess as to the instrumentation used. The surviving scores
were mainly produced between 1722 and 1743 and not all agree
on the exact arrangement of movements.
work dates from 1717, during Handelís earliest years in London
and became deservedly popular. It has traditionally been presented
in three suites; the first in F major with prominent horn parts,
the second in D major with prominent trumpet parts and the more
chamber scale G major suite. It is generally assumed that the
music in the G major suite was played whilst the King was dining
- on dry land - and often conductors place the G major suite
in the middle. On this disc Kevin Mallon has stuck to the traditional
ordering of movements.
the CD booklet, Mallon describes his experiences as a student
in Manchester studying an 18th century score of the
work with John Eliot Gardiner and how the Air in the Suite in
F major was marked presto. Mallon says he has striven
to bring this type of lift to all the music and certainly he
adopts fast tempi in the overtures and dances. He has also added
percussion to the dances.
Aradia play the music with style, giving lithe, shapely performances.
Their general approach seems to reflect a more chamber view
of the work. Jeanne Lamon and Tafelmusik give a rather bigger-boned
performance, the sort that we might have heard drifting across
the water in 1717, whereas Mallon gives us lightness and crispness
with a light-boned feel, as if we were hearing it in a concert
hall. This is not a question of a difference in size between
the groups - they are both roughly the same size - but more
one of tempo and of approach. Interestingly, Kevin Mallon played
second violin on the Tafelmusik recording.
liked the general orchestral balance and feel of the performance,
though I thought that there might be the hint of the odd untidy
detail in the orchestral playing.
and his group pair the Water Music with the equally popular
Firework Music that was written towards the end of Handelís
career for the celebrations for the Peace of Aix-la-Chappelle
in 1749. The two works making a remarkable pair of bookends
to Handelís English career. Though he wrote a considerable amount
of orchestral music, these two works have been both remarkably
influential and remarkably popular.
Firework Music was written for wind ensemble - at King
Georgeís request, there were no fiddles in the ensemble. Though
the first performance with fireworks was a bit of a fiasco,
with one of the pavilions catching fire, a remarkable 12,000
people attended the public rehearsal of the work in Vauxhall
Gardens. Handel added string parts to the piece for a charity
performance in aid of Thomas Coramís Foundation and it is in
this form that we know it.
would advise anyone who is interested in the Fireworks Music
to investigate one of the recordings which reconstruct the original
wind-band version; Sir Charles Mackerras has recorded one and
Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert have recorded another.
On this disc Mallon and his forces give us the traditional version
with string parts. As with the Water Music Mallon emphasises
the more chamber aspects of this music. The opening of the Fireworks
Music is suitably big-boned, but Mallon provides some charming
intimate moments. In La Paix he follows an early manuscript
in ascribing the solo to transverse flute, to charming effect.
are attractive performances and if you are short of the works
I have no qualms in recommending the recording at budget price.
Some of the more expensive discs give slightly more sophisticated
instrumental playing, but the Aradia Ensemble offer us infectious
enthusiasm, youth and charm. What more could we ask for?
see also Review
by David Dunsmore March Bargain of the Month