Georg Friedrich Handel
Concerto grosso “Alexander’s Feast”
Laurence Cummings, conductor
Probably the first titles that come to someone’s mind when he or she is asked to list some of Georg Friedrich Handel’s vocal works are those of the oratorio Messiah and of favourite arias as Lascia ch’io pianga, Ombra mai fu and Let the Bright Seraphim, but, when it comes to orchestral music, the answer will be more predictable as only the Concerti grossi and the Music for the Royal Fireworks are as famous as the Water Music.
The music Handel wrote for the trip that King George I organized on 17th July 1717 and that was later published under the collective title of Water Music was not the first of this kind. The composer from Halle often wrote compositions for festive and ceremonial occasions and it is very likely that he had already supplied music for a trip made by the same King from Whitehall to Limehouse a couple of years before. Maybe it was that early music that afterwards was incorporated in the Water Music, though there is no evidence in support of this thesis.
Anyway, the royal trip from Whitehall to Chelsea which took place in 1717 was gladdened by Handel’s music and so great was its success that it was necessary to repeat it three times in the same evening.
The posterity will never know for sure what music the King heard during that trip because no autograph of the Water Music survives and Handel never published a complete score of the work during his lifetime. Only few minuets were sent to press in 1729 and in 1734 and the 1743 edition, though including all the movements, was an arrangement of the harpsichord. The Water Music as it is performed today comes from an assemblage made in 1717 that brought together exiting music.
Laurence Cummings and the FestspielOrchester Göttingen recorded the Water Music, together with the Concerto grosso in C major (composed in 1736 as interval music for Alexander’s Feast), during two concerts at the Stadthalle Göttingen in 2013. The only thing to regret is that it took four years to release this beautiful album, which incidentally is only one of several recordings of Handel’s works made by this ensemble and conductor.
If the others are as good as the present one, the FestspielOrchester and Cummings are building one of the finest monuments to Handel appeared in the latest years. The Water Music is properly performed as a refined work that, without being pyrotechnical, is sparkling, lively and delightful. Cummings chooses tempos that are not too slow or too fast and the music flows joyously as waterworks, especially in characteristic movements as the lively Bourrée from the Suite No. 2 in F major or the two Rigaudons from the Suite No. 3 in G Major, but elsewhere the music reminds of the quiet water of a fountain, as in the Air or in the Allegro moderato from the Suite No. 2 in F major, or in the Sarabande from the Suite No. 3 in G Major.
The FestspielOrchestra is composed by accomplished virtuosi that are to be praised in first place for their smooth playing and in the second place when some of them emerge above the others, as the blazing trumpet of the Suite No. 2 in D major. The brilliant sound of the instruments is well captured by the recording, which is of so good quality that the presence of the audience is virtually limited to the applauses.
This recording of Handel’s Water Music is spectacular because its three components – music, orchestra and conductor – are equally fine and together realize an excellent rendition of this famous and beloved work.