Handel: Water Music (CD review)

Also, excerpts from Solomon.  Bernard Labadie, Les Violons du Roy.  ATMA ACD2 2569.

If it's authenticity you're after, I'd suggest Guglielmo and L'Arte dell'Arco (CPO), Pinnock and the English Concert (DG Archiv), McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque (Harmonia Mundi), or Savall and Les Concert des Nations (Astree), all of whom play on original period instruments and in an approximation of period style. But if you are simply looking for an enjoyable version of Handel's celebrated Water Music played on modern instruments, ATMA's 2007 recording with Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy may be another consideration.

If we can believe a newspaper account of the day, a barge carrying some fifty musicians accompanied the King down the Thames, presumably playing Handel's music for His Majesty's amusement. If so, then the Canadian ensemble Les Violons du Roy is short by half, comprising as they do about two dozen players. And they perform on modern instruments. However, the booklet note tells us they have been strongly influenced by recent research into the performance practice of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. If that is also true, you could have fooled me. Their style is their dominant feature, and it seems to me quite modern, insofar as it is smooth, rhythmically well balanced, and lyrically well developed. The performers play with enthusiasm and impart a joy that is undeniable, but at the same time their interpretation of the music is flawlessly fluid, polished, refined, flowing, and seemingly effortless. This is Water Music so graceful, you'd think it was done in water colors.

The group's relatively small size imparts a greater intimacy to the music as well as offering somewhat greater transparency to the sound. ATMA engineers recorded the music in the orchestra's new concert hall, and it provides a fine, resonant, yet entirely natural acoustic. The ensemble is well spread out, with reasonable depth, taut low end impact, and a pleasant bloom.

Caveats? Two, both minor. Many of the most-recent releases of Handel's Water Music have included as a coupling the composer's Music for the Royal Fireworks. They make natural companions, and a seventy-five-minute CD easily accommodates them both. Here, however, in addition to the standard three Water Music suites (no one's sure what was actually played at the music's première), we get only a few minutes of excerpts from Handel's Solomon, the overture and "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba." My other concern is that ATMA's cover art is so minimalist, so simplistic, that it will not attract many new potential buyers who see it. This is music that cries out for the reproduction of a painting of barges on the Thames or something that might draw one's attention.

But nothing can defeat the music. Remember, my test of anything new to me (music or recording) is whether I want to return to it soon. I listened to this one a second time immediately.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa