Handel: Water Music (CD review)

Also, trumpet concertos of Handel, Torelli, and Vivaldi. Roger Delmotte and Arthur Haneuse, trumpets; Hermann Scherchen, Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Westminster 471 276-2.

This was another of Universal's reissues of a decade or so ago, taken from the old Westminster label. It features Handel's Water Music recorded by Hermann Scherchen and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in 1961. It is a decidedly and wonderfully old-fashioned interpretation by today's standards, yet it's one a person might not want to miss.

In the booklet notes we find a quote from the conductor regarding the then-emerging move toward "authentic" performing practice: "All that can be said here is that historical fidelity for fidelity's sake would be absurd, given our large concert halls and the vast audiences that fill them; the modern concert hall demands the piano, just as it demands today's more powerful strings." Apparently, Maestro Scherchen had little regard for small ensembles playing Baroque music on period instruments. Instead, he offers a large-scale performance playing in a most Romantic tradition, some of which can be downright disconcerting to folks who have grown up with period-performance practices.

Hermann Scherchen
Scherchen takes the "Overture" and "Alla Hornpipe," for instance, at ooooh soooooo sloooow a pace, and with such a mass of strings you may hardly recognize things. Still, taken purely as music, without counting prejudices one way or the other about what music it is and how one should play it, this set of Water Music holds its own. Scherchen presents it beautifully, the orchestra performs it eloquently, and the whole set of movements appears uniformly well integrated. Once you listen to it all the way through, today's newer, leaner, quicker-paced readings may seem less musical to you.

Performers today most commonly divide the Water Music into suites according to key signatures, but as there is no documented proof as to how folks originally played the various movements, Scherchen has chosen to offer them in a single, extended suite. It works just fine, as does the early stereo sound. Unlike a previous release I reviewed from this source (of Liszt), which Westminster recorded several years earlier than the Water Music and sounded noisy, this issue is dead quiet. Fortunately, too, like the Liszt, the orchestral spread is wide and deep, the sonics rich, full, and smooth, and the natural balance remarkable.

Indeed, the audiophile listener may find interest in this disc for its audio reproduction alone, with the older performance style coming as an added attraction. As the Water Music also comes coupled with several very brief trumpet concertos by Handel (Concerto in D major), Torelli (Sinfonia for trumpet, strings & continuo in D major), and Vivaldi (Trumpet Concerto for 2 trumpets, strings & continuo in C major), I can only recommend the package; certainly not as a first choice in this repertoire, but as an alternative view at least.


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

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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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa