George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Water Music Suites: No.1 in F, HWV348 [26:44]; No.2 in D, HWV349
[9:47]; No.3 in G, HWV350 [7:30]
– Overture [6:29]
Il Pastor Fido: Menuet (arr. Sir Thomas Beecham) [3:22]
from Xerxes (instrumental arrangement) [5:29]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Church (Epistle) Sonata No.10 in F for organ & strings, K244 [3:29]
Church (Epistle) Sonata No.13 in G for organ & strings, K274 [5:15]
Philomusica of London/Thurston Dart
(Water music, Mozart) Boyd Neel Orchestra/Boyd Neel (overtures) London Symphony Orchestra/George Szell
(menuet, largo) rec.
July 1954 (overtures), 1957 (Mozart), 1960 (Water music), August 1961
(Menuet, Largo). ADD. ELOQUENCE 4828531
I was listening to Christopher Hogwood’s recording of Messiah and
browsing a 22-CD Hogwood collection of Handel’s music – a review on the
stocks as I write – when this Eloquence CD arrived. It’s very valuable in
illustrating the stages by which period-performance Handel came to be the
norm even before the age of Hogwood and his like, but it’s also well
worthwile in its own right.
It contains two overtures which Boyd Neel recorded with his chamber-size
orchestra in 1955, the Water Music which Thurston Dart, academic and
performer, was one of the first to record complete (1960), in three suites,
rather than the excerpts which had been cobbled together by Hamilton Harty,
and a step back to an older style in arrangements of the Largo (from Serse) and Il Pastor Fido (LSO/George Szell, 1962). All of
that is rounded off with Dart and the Philomusica in two Mozart Epistle Sonatas, recorded in 1957. The Philomusica, like the Academy
of St Martin’s, whose recordings from around this time and a little later
with Neville Marriner are also still very worthwhile, used modern
instruments but played with a sense of historical style.
When Jeremy Noble hailed this recording of the Water Music as ‘the
best and most convincing version we are likely to get for a long time’
(December 1959) he was spot on. Since then we have had full-on
period-instrument performances, not least from Christopher Hogwood and the
Academy of Ancient Music (Double Decca 4557092, with Fireworks Music
and Concerti a due cori, or the 22-CD Handel/Hogwood set mentioned
above, Decca 4828103). How does Dart, at the very beginning of period
awareness, compare with his successors – for example Hogwood or with The
English Concert directed by Trevor Pinnock? (Decca Originals, mid-price,
4777562, with Fireworks Music). In fact, I compared Dart, as
reissued by Beulah, with Pinnock and several other recordings in
DL Roundup 2012/2,
where I even found a good word for the Hamilton Harty arrangement. The
Beulah, no longer available, is neatly replaced by this Eloquence.
Much as I like the Hogwood, even in 1977 some of the players had still not
fully mastered the period instruments – the horns in particular require
some tolerance, and that’s true even of some of the more recent recordings.
Dart was also more conservative in observation of all the repeats than
Hogwood: it’s not that the latter is slower when he takes 37:49 for the
Suite in F against Dart’s 26:44, and I’m with Dart on this occasion. It may
have been fine to repeat so much music on the original royal river
progress, but it’s less appropriate on record. Pinnock (rec. 1983) falls
between the two at 30:51.
The Boyd Neel Orchestra, sometimes known as the Boyd Neel Chamber
Orchestra, represent an even earlier stage in the progress towards
period-aware Handel, doing sterling service in the latter days of 78s and
early days of LP. The two overtures here first appeared on front and back
of a very short ten-inch LP – they could have fitted on one side – and
later on a 7-inch ep. Around the same time, Neel recorded a complete Water Music, which, though later reissued on Ace of Clubs, was
superseded by the Dart recording. Neel’s idea of authenticity often
resulted in stiff and insensitive playing, far removed from the sensitivity
of Dart, but the two overtures are attractive enough.
I’ve called the Szell items a step back to an earlier style, but I have to
admit that his account of the Largo (Ombra mai fu) is like
one of those expensive Belgian chocolates that get trotted out at Christmas
– naughty but nice in occasional doses.
After the Largo, the stylish Mozart comes as something of a culture
shock, especially as the organ apparently has a single stop – at least
that’s far better than to have all guns blazing with 32-foot tone, and it’s
in scale with Dart’s small-scale orchestra. Originally coupled with Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Serenata Notturna, these short
sonatas make a brief but enjoyable conclusion to a very worthwhile reissue.
Considering that the Water Music alone cost almost £2 in 1959 – at
least £50 in modern terms – to have these recordings reissued for less than
£8 on CD or as a download (no booklet with the latter) is superb value. You
can be pretty sure, too, that everything on the new CD sounds better than
it did on LP, with quality ranging from very acceptable to good, if a
The other items may not be of quite the same standard, but you really
should hear Thurston Dart’s Water Music.
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