Handel Water Music HogwoodGeorg Friedrich Handel

Water Music, The Musick for the Royal Fireworks, Concerti a due cori, The Alchymist

The Academy of Ancient Music

Christopher Hogwood, conductor

Decca, 1997

This is a recording that includes several works composed by Georg Friedrich Handel. First of all, there are his two orchestral masterpieces, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Water Music. It is common knowledge that Water Music was composed for the royal trip down the River Thames which took place on 17th July 1717, while Music for the Royal Fireworks was written in 1749 for the celebrations after the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle which ended the War of the Austrian Succession. This music premiered in Green Park on 27th April and was as successful as the fireworks display was a failure because of the unfavourable weather.

Next to these popular compositions, there are less known works dating from different stages of Handel’s career. In chronological order, the first work is The Alchymist, belonging to Handel’s Italian period and appeared for the first time as the overture of the early opera Rodrigo (Florence, 1707). The Two Arias for Wind Band were composed in the 1720s for a military band. The three Concerti a due cori are among Handel’s last orchestral works. Composed between 1747 and 1748, they were probably played during the intervals of Handel’s oratorios.

The two discs of this set offers extremely fine performances. Independently from the composition Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music are performing, the works are all covered with what can be defined exquisite elegance, a feature that embellishes Handel’s music in a really dazzling way.

If the quality of the works depends on the level of skill Handel had acquired at the time he wrote them, honestly it is difficult to choose which one Hogwood conducts better. The Water Music has something refined that cannot be heard in any other recording. This is definitely a “royal” work for its fluidity and brightness and for the careful attention with which every detail of the score is stressed, thanks in particular to an appropriate choice of tempos.

The Alchymist is full of vitality and in this regard it is rather different from the other works. They too are energetic and reveal the conductor’s charisma, but this one seems to have gone further and a particular élan on Hogwood’s part makes the difference.

The Music for the Royal Fireworks is sumptuous and, avoiding the thunders that sometimes characterize other recordings, wants a celebration which is triumphal indeed, but with a more elevated character. Hear for example the wonderful Ouverture, its charming colours and the way in which it announces the pyrotechnic display.

Perhaps after the Music for the Royal Fireworks not many listeners will expect much from the Concerto a due cori, but its lightness and its almost light-hearted spirit give a peculiar sense of calm joy to its nineteen lovely movements. Moreover, in this work the playing of the Academy of Ancient Music deserves to be praised even more than in the other pieces, where it already plays superbly. The performance of the strings is particularly notable for their warm and intense sound.

At last, the two Arias for wind band are delightful, short works, performed with great enthusiasm.

This album is wonderful from the beginning to the end and will be a great addition to everyone’s personal collection. Hogwood is in a state of grace and the marvellous Academy of Ancient Music is simply fabulous. Add to this that some of the most beautiful music ever composed – by Handel or by anybody else – is recorded here and you will have a precise idea of what this recording is.