Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks (CD review)

Also, Water Music. Martin Pearlman, Boston Baroque. Telarc CD-80594.

There was a time you couldn't get both Handel's Fireworks Music and Water Music on a single album. In the old days of vinyl records, they simply wouldn't fit. Then in the early days of CD, record companies apparently thought the two works were too important to couple together, charging buyers double for separate discs.

Today, there are any number of recordings of the two pieces paired together, but there is still a good deal of variety on separate discs as well. For instance, do you want your Handel on period or modern instruments? Do you want the Fireworks Music with or without strings? (The King who commissioned the work, George II of Great Britain, specified "no fiddles.") Do you want a chamber-sized ensemble or something approaching the one hundred players that at least one listener at the time said first performed the piece? Decisions, decisions. McGegan, Pinnock, Savall, Leppard, Orpheus, Lamon, Mackerras? They're all among my favorites, but this 2003 entry from Martin Pearlman and his original-instrument group, Boston Baroque, is as good a choice as  any for the beginning collector or the Handel fan who has everything.
Martin Pearlman

I wasn't too sure about Pearlman's interpretation when he began the Fireworks Overture at almost a funereal pace and then launched headlong into a tempo so quick it might have taxed the abilities of all but the most talented musicians of Handel's day. But things settle down quickly enough, and one gets used to Pearlman's often brisk pace. The Fireworks Music is certainly invigorating as are the opening and closing Water Music Suites, with the Suite in G major appropriately more relaxed (supposedly for the actual dinner accompaniment aboard the royal barge).

In short, Pearlman's approach to the music is both scholarly and vivid, done up in a manner that modern research says at least approximates that which Handel might have heard. The performances are poised yet enthusiastic, attentive yet stimulating, polished yet vigorous.

The sound Telarc affords the music, recorded in January 2002 by longtime Telarc engineer Jack Renner, is pleasantly free of undue brightness, harshness, tubbiness, or reverberation. It's really quite well balanced, although I thought it missed the last degree of weight in the bass, giving the sonics some clear textures but not always the warmth I like. Well, in the last analysis Handel presented both of these works outdoors (in a park concert and on a barge), so maybe bass resonance wouldn't have been a factor, anyway. As always with Telarc, the percussion sounds impressive.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa