This is a reissue of a recording from 1993 (re-released a few years ago and deleted in 2003), recently remastered for SACD, and it really impresses with a renewed presence and impact, even on standard CD playback. As I said in my original review, Savall's reading "comes as close as these things can to placing us in the best seat in the house and treats us to a rare experience: the sensation of believing we're hearing a ruggedly familiar piece for the first time. Literally bursting with energy, scintillating strings, blazing horns, and incisive winds, and never boring even for one second, these performances give you Handel at his most exciting." If you have the earlier release, you probably don't need this one–unless you now own an SACD system–but it does deserve a place in every Handel collection, not only for the unsurpassed performances, but also for the effect of Savall's several decidedly "non-standard" tempos(!), and of course for the phenomenal sound, which now must have reached its ultimate realism in this format.
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.
You might think that Handel's Water Music, HWV 348-350, arguably the most familiar piece of Baroque music (the Four Seasons of Vivaldi can give it a run for its money, but its popularity is more recent), has received every possible interpretation. And you would be wrong, as the musicians of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin have shown in this Harmonia Mundi release, precisely recorded in Berlin's Teldex studio. You get a steady parade of innovations here, marked overall by, but not in the least restricted to, blisteringly fast tempos that turn the horn-dominated movements into tests of virtuosity. Unexpected dynamic contrasts and the unusual rhythmic treatment of the "Overture" to the Suite No. 1 (sample track one) are other novelties, but this veteran group is not out for shock value. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin operate without a conductor, and their coordination in these crisp prestos is worth the price of admission in itself. Their ability to act as one in really unusual shapings of each individual movement is remarkable, and the treacherous horn parts are near perfection in the hands of Erwin Wieringa and Miroslav Rovenský.
It’s an achievement when an artist can take a well-known work and interpret it freshly as if heard for the first time. This Marc Minkowski does with Handel’s Water Music by daring to challenge convention and expectation. Firstly Minkowski chooses to ignore modern musicology, which considers the work a continuous piece or a sequence of movements first in F major or D minor, then a mix of movements in D major and G major. Minkowski follows the earlier performance practice of presenting the Water Music as three suites, respectively grounded in F, G and D major which used to be called the Horn, Flute and Trumpet suites, designating the notable solo instruments. Minkowski also includes the two variant movements in F, HWV331, which are now thought to be a revision by Handel to create a freestanding concerto.
Five years after the initial release of Handel's Water Music and Fireworks suites in the groundbreaking version from Le Concert Spirituel, Glossa are now issuing the original surround master in a newly-designed digipack edition.