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Haendel. Water Music; Music for The Royal Fireworks
17 Oct 2010

Haendel: Water Music; Music for The Royal Fireworks

The “popular” Handel is firmly entrenched in the collective culture with a handful of pieces: the Christmas portion of Messiah, the “Largo” from Serse (in fact, “Larghetto,” but collective culture is hard to convince), and instrumental suites of the Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks come immediately to mind.

Haendel. Water Music; Music for The Royal Fireworks

Le Concert des Nations. Jordi Savall, Director

Alia Vox Heritage AVSA 9860 [SACD]

$20.99  Click to buy

Their popularity and frequent arrangement have given them, I suspect, an awkward familiarity, the kind of familiarity that keeps us from attending to them with attentive and respectful ear. Yet, their familiar ubiquity should not blind us to the fact that they are popular, in part, because they are very good pieces. Jordi Savall’s remastered 1993 recording of the Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks is precisely the sort of recording that breaks through the fog of familiarity and reanimates the hearing.

The pedigree of the suites, of course, needs no special pleading. The Water Music’s association with royal entertainment on the Thames is well known through the early Handel biographer, John Mainwaring, who gives us the unsubstantiated and unlikely notion of a reconciliation between Handel and George I via the beauty of the works at hand. The story is a false start, but the royal esteem for the works survives intact. And with thousands of people creating an eighteenth-century traffic jam on London Bridge en route to hear a public rehearsal of the Music for the Royal Fireworks in Vauxhall Gardens in 1749, we can have but little doubt of the public interest in Handel and his celebrative music for the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

Savall’s splendid period performance offers the opportunity to relish anew the amazing range of pieces in these collections: elegance, exuberance, energy, and regality, all in a captivating procession of musical style. At each turn, the musicians of Le Concert des Nations command such stylistic fluency that, whether a wafting Lentement, a rhapsodic oboe Adagio, or a spirited bassoon gigue, the familiar pieces emerge with a new and very gratifying polish, and our newly awakened ear finds much to respect and enjoy, indeed. To that, as Handel famously and familiarly put it elsewhere, we might say “Hallelujah!”

Steven Plank

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