Georg Friedrich Handel
English Baroque Soloists
on authentic instruments
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Decca, 1984 (2001)
Georg Friedrich Handel’s major orchestral works, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, are often recorded together, but rarely a recording has become an ideal blend between two of the classical elements on earth, water and fire as in the recording conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.
The reasons of composition of the orchestral suites Water Music and Royal Fireworks are very well known: the former accompanied the trip from Whitehall to Chelsea made by King George I and his entourage on 17th July 1717, an event that had both political and musical consequences as it made the King more visible to his subjects, but it assured success to Handel’s music too, a success that lasted to our days. The Music for the Royal Fireworks is Handel’s most significant contribution to the festivities to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1749), together with the less important anthem How Beautiful are the Feet he wrote for the service of thanksgiving. The Royal Fireworks accompanied the firework display in Green Park on 27th April.
Conductor John Eliot Gardiner seems to bear in mind both the joyous and royal reasons that were at the origin of the two orchestral suites and consequently his performance is a sumptuous display of flamboyant colours and a constant quest for perfection. Gardiner reveals his propensity with his usual deepness from the very first bars of Water Music that is performed as a dazzling work not free from nobility and splendour – I would like to say solemnity if this expression did not have a shade of hieratic detachment that absolutely does not belong to the present recording. What is really wonderful here is instead the fact that, though presenting the music in superbly, Gardiner does not sacrifice a sympathetic way to communicate with the listener, who is definitely enthralled by the elegance of the Baroque world.
The Royal Fireworks, if possible, are even better because their triumphal music stands out in the most lively way and here, even more than in the gush of Water Music, the orchestral colours are sparkling, especially in the wonderful La paix. Differently from the amenity of the previous work, moreover, Gardiner gives prominence to the festive character of the Royal Fireworks with a kind of energy that is far more energetic that the polished vigour of Water Music.
These are the reasons why at the beginning I write that this album is played on the contrast between water and fire: that was not only a pun on the titles of Water Music and Royal Fireworks, but it reflects what seemed to me the intention of the conductor and the originality with which he performs two of the best works ever written by Handel.