Even with a plethora of Water Music recordings from which to choose, this rendition fulfills our musical and poetic expectations brilliantly.
HANDEL: Water Music, HWV 348-50 – Akademie fuer Alte Musik Berlin – Harmonia mundi HMC 902216, 48:36 (2/5/16) ****:
Ever since I first auditioned Yehudi Menuhin’s EMI performance of the Handel Water Music with the Bath Festival Orchestra (utilizing the Boyling edition), I have remained impatient with the glut of recorded performances whose approach – most often in period-instrument format – has struck me as entirely lackluster and unimaginative, particularly in regard to repeats, grace notes, and ornamentation.
Now, I am delighted to report that the Akademie fuer Alte Musik Berlin (rec. November 2015) has fulfilled my expectations in its own manner, with a brisk, pointed, and inflected realization that preserves the elevated spirit of the music while reveling in its instrumental color and invention. Menuhin had followed the lead of Boyd Neel, who had bestowed upon us the first full-length arrangement of the three suites in 1954, employing modern instruments and harpsichord continuo. The lean, relatively sec sonority, coupled with the elan projected in a Baroque sensibility, made the Menuhin rendition totally delectable, with rhythmic and accent adjustments that eschewed anything like mechanical repetition in the dances. So, too, the Akademie – bolstered by incisive sonics, courtesy of Rene Moeller – brilliantly capture the articulation of the strings and winds, and the clarion horns that infuse the Allegro sections – Nos. 3, 5, 11 – with alert brio. The Bourree of Suite 3 – No. 17 – surges with a tempest of percussive, tympani flourishes that would be fit for any king. The more refined dances enjoy a sweet and alluring touch of poetry and poise that the original instruments preserve in demure balance.
My only cavil lies in the relative brevity of the disc, which certainly could bear more of the composer’s ingenious arrangements in the concerto grosso style. Handel often stole his own ideas and reworked them into splendid divertissements that this select ensemble (founded in East Germany, 1982) led by concertmaster Georg Kallweit could have executed with incomparable elegance.