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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Water Music (1717): Suite in F major [22:46]; Suite in D major [18:01]
Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749) [27:45]
London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
rec. Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, 9-12 January 1996. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3913342 [68:45]

 


Virgin Classics has embarked on an extensive reissue programme and this is one of the fruits of that back catalogue work. Norrington’s Water Music was recorded back in 1996 and conflated the three suites into two, in F major and D major. The results are consistently bracing, powerfully propounded, skilfully projected and not always free from disputatious point-making.

 

Fortunately Norrington was accorded a first class, if rather close-up recording which emphasises attacks. The horns are full of vigour in the Allegro of the F major Suite, the strings’s rhythms well sprung, and the oboes phrasing with real acumen in the Andante section. The Air has a light, bright insouciance that’s really effective; articulation is crisp and lines are shaped with care. The evenness of the horns’ playing is especially effective. The flute playing is at its most impressive in the Menuet of the D major Suite and there is a splendid delineation of upper and lower voice parts in the Country Dance of the same suite. That said there are some stylistic features that might grate and one of the most pervasive and problematic is the nature of the articulation, which has a détaché quality that sounds overdone too often. The Rigaudon also sports a strange legato moment that perplexes.

 

The Fireworks Music is suitably grand but Norrington is occasionally mannered in the Ouverture. To make amends the trumpets and percussion are on tight, excellent form in La Réjouissance. It’s an excellent performance as far as it goes though Norrington’s approach to orchestration and repeats is quixotic, or personal – however you wish to characterise it; I’m thinking in particular of the Minuet repeats. 

 

It’s precisely these questions that lend Norrington’s performance their character and more combustible qualities. This is a well-established pairing, the baroque equivalent and the Bruch and Mendelssohn Violin concerto pairing, so you are not short of recommendable recordings on original instruments. The variance of the repeats still strikes me as a small weakness but if you can cope with this and rather shifting nature of the instrumentation then you’ll find much to enjoy.

 

Jonathan Woolf

 

see also Review by Michael Greenhalgh

 

 

 

 

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