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George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Water Music (c.1715-17 rev 1736)

Water Music: Suite No. 1 in F major, HWV 348 [29’24"]
(I. Overture. II. Adagio e staccato 05:07; III. Allegro. IV. Andante 06:53; V. Allegro 03:42; VI. Air 02:29; VII. Minuet 02:11; VIII. Bourree 02:11; IX. Hornpipe 02:41; X. Allegro 04:09)
Water Music: Suite No. 2 in D major, HWV 349 (1717)
(I. Allegro 02:07; II. Alla Hornpipe 02:59; III. Minuet 01:52; IV. Lentement 02:05; V. Bourree 01:25
Water Music: Suite No. 3 in G major, HWV 350 (1717)
(I. Sarabande 02:59; II. Rigaudon I and II 02:38; III. Minuet I and II 03:34; IV. Bourree I and II 01:41)
Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749) HWV 351 [20:06]

(I. Overture 07:17; II. Bourree 03:05; III. La paix 03:23; IV. La rejouissance 03:05; V. Minuet I - Minuet II 03:17) 
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
rec. St Anne’s Church, Toronto, Canada, 5-8 Jan 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557764 [71:00]

Firstly, let’s make it clear from the outset that this is an excellent CD of thrilling music which is very well known and loved.

I grew up like many others with the Harty arrangements and the speeds employed there were certainly slower.

The Aradia Ensemble are from Toronto and play on what they call "original instruments". This mustn’t put off those who like André Previn feel they must be playing "perfectly out of tune". These are fine performances and Mallon seems to be something of a Handel fan as their next recording - just out - is the extravaganza "Rinaldo".

Water Music

The first suite is by far the longest and goes splendidly with fine playing from the winds and strings; no acidic quality here. Then a bit of a shock with track 4, piece 6, "Air" which used to introduce the BBC Home Service in the nineteen-sixties. This seems very fast compared to what we’re used to. In the very good notes there is a comment by Mallon that as a student he studied the score in The John Watson Music Library in Manchester with John Eliot Gardiner. This air apparently is marked "presto" and avoids what he calls a "lugubriousness". He may be right but I prefer the Air as it used to be! There’s a real "joi de vive" in the bourree where we encounter the tambourine. One reviewer at least has been concerned by its presence. I must say I rather like it and suspect Handel would have too!

Things go perfectly splendidly throughout the second and third suites and I got to thinking how much I’d like to hear this band live. The famous tune in track 10 "Alla Hornpipe" is a superb example of the very fine musicianship throughout this CD. I also feel a sense of fun and enjoyment in these performances; no dry-as-dust renditions here. I’m sure Beecham - a great discoverer of Handel - would have tapped his cigar to these joyful noises. Mention should be made of the fine renditions of the rigaudon and minuets in the third suite with notable flute playing; also more appearances by the tambourine!

Music for the Royal Fireworks

A splendid opening signals that we are in the world of pomp and circumstance. The mood is grander now and the band play fit for royalty. The overture is thrilling and would certainly make a grand accompaniment; I couldn’t call it background to a firework display. After the splendour of the first two pieces we have the more reflective "La Paix" where, apparently for the first time, transverse flutes are used and very effectively so, adding a touch of magic. There’s much banging of drums in "La Réjouissance" and a triumphal conclusion to Minuet II; thus ending with splendid playing. I’m sure George II would have loved it!

David R Dunsmore

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