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Monday, April 07, 2008

An Old Friend Gets a Fresh Coat of Paint

Georg Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)

Water Music (complete) [49:27]
Solomon: Overture [7:45]
Solomon: Sinfonia (The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba) [2:53]

Les Violons du Roy
Bernard Labadie

Recorded at the Salle Raoul-Jobin, Palais Montcalm, Quebec, June 11-13, 2007.

ATMA ACD2 2569 [60:04]

A number of fancy tales exist to document the relationship between the man who would become George I of England and his court composer Georg Frederic Handel. They are all great tales, but alas, none of them seem to be true, and it would be more accurate to say that the former Elector of Hanover cared little for music, and could not have cared less about the goings on of his young and celebrated court composer. It is said, of course, that the Water Music, one of Handel’s most famous works, was composed for the King’s boat trip down the Thames, but there is little documentation as to the occasion for its composition, and whether the King actually participated in any boat trip that required a musical accompaniment is doubtful.

Regardless of King George’s travel plans, we are left with a magnificent set of orchestral suites, largely patterned after the example of Lully, in which an overture, begun by a highly ornamental dotted rhythmic gesture was followed by a fugue, and followed thereafter by dances in pairs with varying orchestrations.

Maestro Labadie leads one of the most energetic and most French performances of this much recorded music that I have heard in some time. Particularly in the overture to suite one, the excessive use of the French style trill with its long opening appoggiatura started to make me sea sick. Perhaps that’s appropriate. That little quibble aside, Labadie chooses near perfect tempi, none of the frenetic rush that is the downfall of many a Musica Antique Köln recording, nor none of the hyper-romantic slowness that occurred when this music was left in the hands of a Karajan or a Bernstein.

This is lively, spirited playing and Les Violons du Roy make the music fresh and alive, truly a new listening experience. It is easy to pass off the four hundredth recording of a work like the Water Music with a big “oh no, not again!” But these musicians make you listen as they exploit the vivid colors of Handel’s imaginative and for the time, far reaching orchestrations. (The use of hunting horns was a relatively new innovation in orchestral writing at the time, and he used both recorders and transverse flutes for more variety in the winds.)

Rounded off with two tastefully played selections from Solomon, this is an entertaining disc, and a good choice of performances when you want go revisit such favorite pieces as these.

Kevin Sutton

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