The Water Music and the Music for the Royal Fireworks mark two chronological extremes of Handel s career in London. The first was written in his earlier years in England, presumably by 1717, to entertain a royal party sailing up the Thames, while the second was commissioned to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1749. Format: Audio CD Running Time: 1 hour 10 minutes Publisher: NAXOS of America
There's no dearth of fine recordings of these works on the market, but this recording goes straight to the top of the list. Kevin Mallon leads a Toronto-based, 34-person-group of period instrumentalists called the Aradia Ensemble: it's a terrific, ear opening show. The music is, above all, joyful, with dance movements galore and plenty of giddy pomp. Mallon has rethought the tempi, almost all of which, he feels, should be quicker than we're accustomed to hearing. These tempi work most of the time, and if, for example, you overlook the fact that at his tempi, the alla hornpipe of the Water Music Suite No. 2 and the Rigaudon of No. 3 could only have been danced by a dancer on speed, and just listen to how effortlessly entertaining the music is, you'll love it. He's not rigid in his fleetness, however--the final movement of Water Music Suite No. 1 is relaxed and he slows it down even further for its last few seconds, giving it the stature it requires.
Mallon also adds side-drum and tambourines to a couple of the movements, and they add jollity and jauntiness; only a whiner would object. When the trumpets and horns ring out they don't blare and say, in La Paix from the Royal Fireworks Music, when he uses transverse flutes (as suggested in the original manuscript but never before recorded that way), the effect is magical, rather than just mellow. Try the overture of the Royal Fireworks, with brass blasting, drums being banged with wooden-headed sticks, but all at a military tempo that implies forward propulsion rather than combative stodginess. This is both a bargain and a terrific reading. --Robert Levine
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