George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Water Music Suites Nos. 1-3, HWV348-350 (1717) (complete score in revised 2007 edition) [52:50]
Overture to the Occasional Oratorio, HWV62 (1746) [8:12]
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien/Manfred Huss
rec. Auditorium Grafenegg, Grafenegg, Austria, March 2012. DSD
BIS BIS-SACD-2027 [Hybrid SACD: 61:42]
I mentioned this recording briefly in my Download News 2013/13, based on hearing the 24-bit and mp3 downloads from eclassical.com. I’m pleased to have this opportunity to compare the sound on the CD and SACD tracks with the various qualities of download. I’m also happy to report that re-hearing the performances has made me increase my estimation of them.
I wrote in that brief notice of the download:
Distinguished playing on this new recording but, unless you must have 24-bit sound, the King’s Consort on budget-price Hyperion Helios CDH55375 (see April 2012/1 DL Roundup) and Trevor Pinnock (DG Archiv) are both a little lighter on their feet, couple the Water Music with the Fireworks Music and offer better value. The DG recording, on 2 CDs, also adds several other orchestral works; see DL Roundup April 2009 for review of earlier single-CD release and comparison with Hervé Niquet on Glossa.
It remains true that the Hyperion, DG and Glossa recordings are very well worth considering and that, on CD as well as in download form, the Hyperion and DG represent excellent value. The Glossa is now available either as an SACD at full price (GCDSA921616) or as a download for around £8. Hyperion and Glossa also include the Fireworks Music on a single CD; DG run to a second disc but at budget price and with the addition of a suite from the rarely heard Occasional Oratorio and other attractive music (477 9987).
Manfred Huss concludes with just the attractive Overture to the Occasional Oratorio. That means that he clocks in at only just over the hour - not a problem with the eclassical.com download, where a per-second charging policy reduces the price for mp3 and 16-bit lossless to a very reasonable $9.23 ($14.76 for 24-bit) but it’s a consideration for the budget-conscious with the SACD.
The BIS recording emerges from renewed hearing as a good deal livelier and more stylish than I gave it credit for. The opening allegro of Suite I is a shade faster than Pinnock or King - Niquet runs that movement and the following adagio e staccato together at almost exactly the same tempo as Manfred Huss. Try track 19, Gigue I and II, if you need further proof: Huss is a few seconds faster here than Niquet, Pinnock or King; on DG and Hyperion these gigues are labelled Country Dances.
It’s been known for some time that the belief that Handel intended three separate suites was mistaken, so it’s slightly misleading of BIS to use that terminology. In fact, as is pointed out in the booklet, the 2007 edition employed here, based on the oldest-known manuscript source, from before 1718, rearranges the music as a single suite. It has been the practice for some time to run Suites II and III together, so the new recording is not as ground-breaking as it might seem: it’s in line with King and Pinnock in that respect, except that Huss reshuffles items from Suites II/III in a different order from either of them.
If you approach natural horns with temerity - they can sound very fruity - track 8 (bourrée) should reassure you. All the advantages of period instruments, then, with none of the hazards. If the Overture to the Occasional Oratorio takes your fancy, you may wish to try the only available recording of the whole work, from the King’s Consort on Hyperion CDA66961/2.
As for comparing the various versions of this recording, I’ll simply say that it sounds well in all the formats that I have tried. It’s even so good in mp3 and on the CD tracks of the disc that the 24-bit and SACD versions add only a little.
I’d still go for the King’s Consort on that budget-price Hyperion recording as my prime suggestion. There’s another budget recording that I haven’t yet mentioned, from the Aradia Ensemble and Kevin Mallon (Naxos 8.557764). That offers lively accounts of the Water Music and Fireworks Music but it divides the music into three suites and specialists may well be offended by the extraneous percussion which Mallon adds - love it or hate it, you could try it from Naxos Music Library, where you will also find the new BIS recording, Niquet on Glossa and several other recordings.
I should also mention Thurston Dart’s recordings of the three Suites with Philomusica of London - decent stereo from 1959 combining cutting-edge academic knowledge of the time with stylish performances which are still well worth hearing in Beulah’s inexpensive transfer: Beulah Extra 1-3BX69 - see December 2010 DL Roundup; not to be confused with George Weldon’s very different recording of the Water Music Suite on the same page.
I have the Mallon on CD and it’s fun the first time round but I have to admit that it never comes out now, whereas the Hyperion and Beulah recordings do - as, I’m sure, will the new BIS recording, which is more competitive than I earlier gave it credit for and a must if you’re looking for SACD or 24-bit sound.
Masterwork Index: Handels' Water Music
Competitive with the best - a must if you want SACD or 24-bit sound.
Support us financially by purchasing this disc from