Samples & Downloads
George Frideric HANDEL
Water Music (1717): Suite in F major, HWV348
[30:10]; Suite in G major, HWV350 [10:16]; Suite in D major, HWV349
Rodrigo, HWV5 (1707): Overture and dances [13:48]
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
rec. MC2, Grenoble, January 2010, DDD
NAÏVE V 5234 [68:00]
It’s an achievement when an artist can take a well-known
work and interpret it freshly as if heard for the first time.
This Marc Minkowski does with Handel’s Water Music
by daring to challenge convention and expectation. Firstly Minkowski
chooses to ignore modern musicology, which considers the work
a continuous piece or a sequence of movements first in F major
or D minor, then a mix of movements in D major and G major.
Minkowski follows the earlier performance practice of presenting
the Water Music as three suites, respectively grounded
in F, G and D major which used to be called the Horn, Flute
and Trumpet suites, designating the notable solo instruments.
Minkowski also includes the two variant movements in F, HWV331,
which are now thought to be a revision by Handel to create a
freestanding concerto. If you’d like to hear them as such
you need to programme your player to play just track 5 followed
by track 12.
One problem with a well-known work like the Water Music
is that musically it holds no surprises. You know exactly what’s
going to happen. But I was surprised by the freshness of Marc
Minkowski’s account. This is founded on superb playing
but also partly because Minkowski isn’t afraid to take
risks and do things differently. Even if this doesn’t
always quite come off, the gamble is stimulating. You experience
this right from the start of the Ouverture (tr. 1). Minkowski
chooses to understate its introduction so the skipping main
body (from 1:11) seems all the merrier. He’s like a spaniel
hovering, well behaved at the garden gate before bounding in
and running amok among the shrubbery. I’ll compare another
recording on period instruments, made in 1996 by the London
Classical Players/Roger Norrington (Virgin Classics 391334 2,
Norrington’s Ouverture begins more assertively but in
this he’s more formal while his main body is more studied,
less free than Minkowski’s.
The joy of Minkowski’s second movement is the fine variety
of decoration by the oboe soloist which makes the arioso personal
and seductive, spaciously presented yet smoothly flowing. Norrington’s
account is a truer Adagio, taking 2:19 against Minkowski’s
1:59, but thereby seems more calculated in its beauteously reflective
but sparer manner. In the third movement horns’ spotlight
Minkowski takes us from the drawing room to the farmyard with
exuberant, swaggering braying. Norrington is sonorous but deliberate:
his clarity of articulation lacks Minkowski’s stimulating
sweep. The followingAndante in D minor is given creamy
and smooth treatment by Minkowski yet has a sure progression.
Norrington is more sober, intimate and more consciously stylish
before the da capo of the preceding horns’ spotlight.
Minkowski omits this, substituting the expanded F major variant
(tr. 5) of the Ouverture which opens the D major suite (tr.
18) and while it’s good to have this, with horns and strings
in splendid form, I felt a bit cheated of the da capo.
That said, all I need to do is repeat track 3.
The next movement (tr. 6) is marked to be played three times.
Minkowski adds to its attractiveness by varying the scoring:
horns and strings first time, horns and oboes in the repeat,
everyone third time. He then gives us a velvety central section
for strings alone before the da capo. Norrington’s
presentation is equally lively with a well contrasted silky
central section but he only gives us the first section material
twice and tutti throughout. The famous Air (tr. 7) is
presented by Minkowski in relaxed, courtly and stylish fashion
with scoring and structure intelligently varied. The first strain
appears on strings alone, quite intimate, then with oboes doubling
first violins in the repeat. Then he plays the first half of
the second section with the horns’ counterpoint (0:46)
without repeat before returning to the second half of the first
section (1:10), strings only and then following the pattern
as before. Norrington’s Air is more jocular and offhand.
He’s more uniform in using tutti instruments throughout,
one repeat for both halves of the movement plus a final outing
for the first strain. Next, Minkowski’s Minuet (tr. 8)
is bracing, pacy and emphasises the percussive element of the
string-bass in the tutti scoring yet has a sleek contrasted
F minor central section (0:44). Here Norrington is slower, grander,
especially in the string body and with more emphasis in the
central section on the second violins’ counter-tune.
In the Bourrée and Hornpipe Minkowski plays the first
section thrice before proceeding to the second whereas Norrington
plays both sections together which I prefer. But Minkowski’s
swinging tempo is irresistible, beside which Norrington seems
over sedate. The next piece, in D minor, has no tempo indication.
Minkowski makes it spacious, smoothly reflective and relaxed
at 4:29. Norrington, at 2:43, is more bubbly but thereby also
flimsier. Minkowski finishes off his set of F major/D minor
pieces with his second bonus, the F major version of the Alla
Hornpipe (tr. 12) which is a slightly longer revision of the
D major version (tr. 19). Here oboes alternate with horns and
there’s an extra rising counter-theme first heard at 0:37
and a glowing tailpiece for the horns at 1:10. Minkowski’s
account is pacy yet also sunny and serene.
Minkowski now presents the G major/minor movements as a suite.
The first (tr. 13) showcases a smooth flute, with repeats gracefully
ornamented to create a continuously flowing expanded melodic
line. Norrington’s flautist is fussier, the effect less
restful. Minkowski retains the flute in a light and frothy Rigaudon
where Norrington offers the usual oboe with a sunnier, more
al fresco perspective. Minkowski, on the other hand,
offers the pleasing change of timbre of recorder in the G minor
movement between appearances of the Rigaudon. That recorder
returns daintily in the movement between entries of a steady
Minuet from Minkowski where Norrington is fuller in texture
but less poised and individual in the recorder’s contribution.
Minkowski’s recorder also sparkles a touch more as the
C minor filling for two outings of a rustic G major dance with
bassoons prominent. Norrington makes this dance the filler but
it has more substance than its higher register companion.
Finally Minkowski gives us the D major suite, opening with the
original version (tr. 18) of the Ouverture heard earlier, this
time featuring spirited alternation between trumpets and horns,
even if the harpsichord improvisation before its closing Adagio
bars is rather long-winded. Norrington, with a briefer, more
stylish violin improvisation, is otherwise more orderly but
less exciting. Now comes the original version of the Alla Hornpipe
(tr. 19), very bright and with jazzy ornamentation from the
trumpets, into their stride by the cadence at 0:54 after which
there’s no holding them and you begin to feel sorry for
the horns who can’t always quite match them. In comparison
Norrington seems rather stiff in manner and stingy in ornamentation.
Minkowski continues with an effervescent third appearance of
the second strain of the following Minuet and still more high-jinks
in the third and fourth tutti appearances of a fast and
frisky Bourrée, presented first by trumpets, with oboes
and bassoons on the repeat, second by horns and oboes. This
has never sounded more exuberant. Before this rip-roaring finale,
however, Minkowski parades a Lentement that’s extravagantly
slow and stately which gives it something of a halting quality.
The effect is that of a grand, splendidly arrayed dignitary,
hobbling in procession. Here I prefer the more lilting Norrington,
taking 1:26 in comparison with Minkowski’s 2:34.
To complete the CD Minkowski has chosen the little known Overture
and suite of dances which open Handel’s opera Rodrigo.
Minkowski gives us an Overture (tr. 23) which is sunny, laid-back
to a degree yet also with a spring in its step, florid and abounding
in rhythmic variety. It sports an Allegro main section
(1:09) that’s light and blithely skipping in which passages
for violins and oboes blend and separate before a more formal
but not too slow close. Minkowski conveys this all with great
fluency and a feel for the echoing phrases which are deftly
pointed. I compared Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis (Virgin
Classics 6958622) who only perform the Overture in their 1997
recording of the complete opera. Curtis is more punctilious
in rhythmic articulation but less varied, always performing
even runs of quavers as if dotted quavers and semiquavers. His
introduction is slower, 1:22 against Minkowski’s 1:09,
but less flowing, his Allegro faster but thereby somewhat
Now Minkowski gives us the dances too. Well, almost all of them
if you consult the 2007 Barenreiter urtext which has a Menuet
II that isn’t included here. The first dance is a Gigue,
lively and happy with a brief, not at all serious excursion
into G minor in its second section. A Sarabande follows, luxuriating
in an easy grace of melody Handel would have noted in Purcell,
garnished here with touches of lute and harpsichord and with
Minkowski using solo instruments for the repeats of both sections
to create an idyllic, intimate effect. After this Matelotte
is a bubbly Sailors’ dance to set your feet tapping. Then
there’s a Menuet (urtext Menuet I), light and neatly done
before a genially leaping Bourrée (urtext Bourrée
II) in which it’s the oboes and bassoon who have the repeats
to themselves having doubled the strings first time. This is
followed by a Gavotte, called Bourrée I in the urtext:
whatever you call it, a frisky number of tremendous verve and
vigorous percussive effects from strings and lute. The concluding
Passacaglia has a smooth opening and also close. It’s
a static, cosy vision of peace and plenty from which a solo
violin escapes. This provides a focus of individual activity,
aided and abetted by lots of nifty writing for the lower strings,
the oboes and alternation between the soloist and the other
violins. Minkowski’s band pursues all this with relish
and the set of pieces makes a refreshing close to a disc of
vividly realized and thoroughly entertaining performances.
Masterwork Index: Water