Amidst the sea of available recordings of Handel's Water Music, this one by Canadian authentic-instrument ensemble Tafelmusik stood out from the crowd when it was released in 1996 and has been re-released on Sony's revived (but still graphics-poor) Great Performances budget line. Its strength was that engineering met musicology intelligently. The Water Music (the whole thing is presented here, with the usual suites mixed together) was written for outdoor performance during a boat excursion King George I enjoyed on the Thames River. Its little dances, each a masterpiece of timing and grace, are unusually resilient; they sound good even when played by lumbering symphony orchestras. Trying to reconstruct how they might have sounded originally, however, gets into the tricky matter of natural horns, whose rough sounds can overwhelm a small string group. Various solutions to this problem have been tried, but the one on display here is the simplest and probably the best: the recording, although made in the cozy confines of Toronto's Glenn Gould Studio, has a spacious acoustic that nicely approximates an outdoor sound, with the horns billowing pleasantly out of the texture instead of blaring over it. Conductor Jeanne Lamon's strings are sprightly, not shrieky, and the results, one would like to think, are reasonably close to what Handel was shooting for. Her hornpipes and bourrées are on the fast side -- perhaps even uncomfortably fast for some. Sample these movements to see whether you feel that their jittery quality interferes with the grace of these stylized country dances. If not, you may have found a first-rate budget Water Music. The inclusion of a suite of dances from the opera Il pastor fido (1734) is an added bonus, far preferable to pairing the Water Music with another highly familiar piece.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Water Music Suites Nos 1-3 for orchestra, HWV 348-350|
|Il Pastor Fido, opera, HWV 8c|