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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] 
Alcina – Overture [6:29]
Berenice Overture [7:11]
Il Pastor Fido: Menuet (arr. Sir Thomas Beecham) [3:22]
Largo 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 [76:14]

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 little thin.

The other items may not be of quite the same standard, but you really should hear Thurston Dart’s Water Music.

Brian Wilson

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