Handel’s Water Music (2003)

by | Dec 7, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Handel’s Water Music (2003)
Recreating a Royal Spectacular

The English Concert directed by Andrew Manze
Studio: BBC/Opus Arte (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 16:9 WS
Audio: DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo – English
Subtitles: French, German, Spanish, Italian
Extras: Multi-angle view of an historic panoramic drawing of the portion of the Thames involved; Documentary on the recreation with Peter Ackroyd
Length: 78 minutes
Rating: ****

Most music lovers know that Handel’s Water Music was written for a 1717 premiere on the river Thames in London with King George I sailing up the Thames with a barge full of musicians playing Handel’s music, and many other boats joining the flotilla. The event had all sorts of political import, since the King had been “imported” from the German Hanoverian court and wanted to impress his English subjects by letting them see him in all his glory during this special party on the river. The big event was reported in detail in a London newspaper, so the BBC researchers, designers, musicologists and musicians had quite a bit to go on in attempting a recreation of the royal spectacular.

Just one of those involved in the project was the Queen’s Bargemaster.  His job was to find a barge that could be towed up and down the Thames, holding the English Concert performers, and one that could be decorated to look something like what King George I would have used in 1717. Then there were the costumes and wigs required for the performers, plus the thorny problem of making sure the music could be heard by those on the shores with benefit of anachronistic PA systems. A social historian and a political historian as well as an acoustician become involved in the complex project, which is laid out with typical British wit and humor in the excellent documentary preceding the complete waterborne performance of the selections from the two Water Music Suites. It all looks and sounds most authentic, by Jove!

The alternate images of the Thames map was taken from historic sources and allow the listener to view the environs of the river as they looked in 1717 as it slowly unfolds together with the music.  It is pointed out that landmarks such as Big Ben and London Bridge didn’t then exist, but a large hospital which still stands is recognized. The image quality on the live action material is exemplary, and I found it interesting that this is probably the first video DVD I have seen that offers only DTS and PCM audio, with no Dolby Digital option.  In that it is similar to the Nimbus DVD-A discs. The plan is that nearly as many users now have DTS decoding as Dolby and the former sounds better for music.

– John Sunier


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