This review was written by Huw Collingbourne for an earlier incarnation of Green Man Review.
What the world really does not need, you might think, is yet another recording of Handel’s Water Music. Along with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the Water Music has become one of the great clichés of the baroque repertoire. Heaven knows, Handel wrote a great deal of wonderful music, much of which is rarely recorded. So when I received a copy of this disc, I must admit that I was far from eager to sit down and listen to it. I mean, as if the Water Music on its own isn’t a rather obvious choice, this CD partners it with Handel’s other ‘pop’ hit, Music for the Royal Fireworks. Frankly, it sounded like a rather tedious combination. . . .
But, grouchy as I was when I put the disc into my CD player, I have to admit that I pretty soon found myself in a much more cheerful mood. There’s no getting away from the fact that, cliché or not, this is wonderful music. Foot-tapping melodies, indeed! The performance here fully does the composer justice. This is no pared down, austere performance in the modern ‘back to basics’ manner. Here the New York Philharmonic provides a full, magisterial sound as befits music written (if you accept the more romantic version of the story) for a river party given by King George I.
In fact, while this is a fairly newly released disc, the recording is far from new. It was first released on vinyl back in the mid ’70s. Sony has now remastered it and released it as an expanded edition, which not only contains all three suites of the Water Music and all five movements of the Music for the Royal Fireworks, but also has the overture to Handel’s opera, Berenice, as a bonus track. For a relatively old recording, the sound is remarkably crisp, with no discernible hiss or distortion. The playing is superb throughout. John Cerminaro shines on the French horn, and his virtuosity is perfectly complemented by the entire orchestra.
Incidentally, don’t confuse this CD with other versions of the Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music which are also conducted by Boulez. There are several other Boulez releases available, at least one of which contains excerpts rather than the full works. The disc we’re reviewing has 26 tracks, with a running time of just over 78 minutes. Check carefully before you spend your cash! In brief, this is just about as good a recording of these ever popular Handel works as you can buy.
(Sony Music Entertainment, 2003)