Jordi Savall's exemplary performance of Handel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks is among the finest available on disc: refined and precise, but very big, with blood-stirring grandeur. This is just the kind of extroverted, rousing presentation that best highlights the music's open-air ceremonial function. Savall's Le Concert des Nations is essentially a chamber orchestra with double or triple winds, but the sound he elicits from the group is majestic and surprisingly powerful. The playing is crisp and the rhythmic articulation bracing, but the sound is never brash. In fact, more often than not it is seductively sensual, a heady integration of precision and supple, shapely phrasing. Handel left no authoritative edition of the score of Water Music and it has traditionally been divided into three suites, but Savall reorders the material into two suites, a decision that makes more sense in terms of key relationships and that sounds entirely satisfying.
“[These suites] have rarely been recorded or promoted by harpsichordists during the most recent revival of interest in ‘early music.’” I realize that Richard Egarr is entitled to his own opinions—his liner notes on an earlier release, for example, likened the humor in Purcell’s harpsichord music to that of the wonderful old 1950s BBC comedy The Goon Show —but he’s not entitled to his own facts. Christopher Brodersen pointed out in a 2011 review of these works featuring Laurence Cummings ( Fanfare 34:5) that ArkivMusic listed nine complete sets played on the harpsichord, with several others on the piano. I find some of the suites have considerably more recordings than that, in 2014: 26 for the Suite in A Major, 28 for the Suite in D Minor, 25 for the Suite in E Minor, 47 for the Suite in E Major. If such numbers reflect rare recordings, I have to wonder what Egarr would consider a moderate number, let alone a frequent one.
"The versatile, highly acclaimed early music ensemble, Zefiro, present a beautiful programme exploring the influence of water and the elements upon both Handel and Telemann, reissued at a special price for the Handel 250th anniversary this year…" ~prestoclassical
This is a reissue of a recording that was previously issued by Nuova Era and Mondo Musica. It allows us to hear Marilyn Horne in one of her signature roles, and it was presumably for her that this production was mounted at Venice’s La Fenice. Horne’s performance is what one would expect; she tosses off the coloratura with ease, and her performance is very assured. Her colleagues provide generally good support. Gasdia does not make as strong an impression as some of her recorded competition as Almirena, but her singing is technically assured.
As well as recording for, and eventually publicly falling out with, Deutsche Grammophon, John Eliot Gardiner made a series of recordings for Erato, which Warner Classics are now bundling together at bargain price. Pairing the opera Tamerlano with the joyously exuberant choral setting of Milton (with a disc of ballet music from the operas too) makes no obvious sense, except that both rank among Gardiner's finest Handel performances; and his versions of each (L'Allegro from 1981, Tamerlano from five years later) arguably remain the most recommendable in the current catalogue. The cast in Tamerlano is led by a pair of outstanding counter tenors, Derek Ragin and Michael Chance, then both at the start of their careers, with tenor Nigel Robson as Bajazet, while the soloists in L'Allegro include Marie McLaughlin, Jennifer Smith and Martyn Hill; dramatic energy and vitality course through both performances.(Andrew Clements)
John Eliot Gardiner and his period instrument ensemble produce a lovely, smooth sound in these very well played performances, which use Handel's versions for strings and winds. Balances are fine; playing and recording collaborate to produce a treasurable clarity in which every line registers. –Leslie Gerber … Handel's epic oratorio, Israel in Egypt, here in a gripping performance by John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra, was a failure during Handel's lifetime. This was perhaps because of its immense variety of compositional techniques and forms. It is a virtual catalog of choral compositional methods, and thus stands outside the genre of 18th-century oratorio as such. Now, of course, it is recognized as what it is, a unique, dazzling work. –Joshua Cody … Although he billed this piece as an oratorio, it's really an opera–the first ever in English, and one of the finest too. Handel's audience wasn't fooled for a minute, and a successful performance needs a dazzling cast of singers, just as in the composer's Italian operas. Good as John Eliot Gardiner's singers are, they don't surpass John Nelson's cast on DG, nor does Gardiner's direction offer much competition. Had the DG not existed this would be perfectly recommendable, but life is cruel, and you deserve the best.(David Hurwitz)