Handel / Water Music Suite (Complete) / Kubelik / Berlin Phil

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  • A+++ on side one – dynamic, huge, rich and open. This is a DG? Yes! 
  • All three suites, and one of the best performances we know of
  • Side two is exceptionally transparent – you hear into it beautifully
  • One of the best DG recordings we have ever played, a true Demo Disc

The performance here by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Rafael Kubelik is currently a favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable. With White Hot and Super Hot stampers respectively, this copy is right up there with the best recordings of the Water Music we’ve heard.

This is of course a well-known, well-respected performance by one of the greatest orchestras in the world, the home to Von Karajan at the time. We went through an elimination round for the work a while back, winnowing a large number of recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance, and we are happy to say that this one acquitted itself beautifully on all counts.

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We managed to find three (!) recordings that had both superb sound and top quality performances. On the best pressings all were of Demo Disc quality, and most were pressed on very quiet vinyl.

An Overview

The modern version of The Water Music contains three separate suites, referred to as Suite No. I, Suite No. 2 and Suite No. 3, each of which is in a different key, and each of which makes use of different instrumentation. Suite No. 1 is the one that will be most familiar to you, 2 and 3 quite a bit less so.

Side One (Suite 1)

A+++, White Hot and absolutely AMAZING in all respects. Interestingly enough, the complete score here has different orchestration from others we played.

The sound is huge, deep, dynamic, with no smear on the strings whatsoever. Great energy too. We simply cannot find fault with it!

Side Two (Suite 1)

A++ Super Hot, rich and natural sounding. Slightly smeary, which causes the loudest string parts to get a bit congested, although it’s not actually very bothersome.

WAY better sound than any DG pressing you have ever heard or your money back.

LA Phil Background on The Water Music

The Water Music dates from Handel’s first years in England, where he arrived in 1710, officially on leave from recent employment in the Elector of Hanover’s court. He returned again in 1712 and stayed permanently after ingratiating himself with Queen Anne, who awarded him a lifetime pension of 200 pounds a year — enough to live on. In 1714, the Elector of Hanover became George I of England on Anne’s death and, far from showing displeasure with his ex-employee, doubled Handel’s royal pension.

Indeed, Handel was faring better than the king was. George, who never learned to speak English and brought with him a German inner circle and two German mistresses, was roundly disliked as a foreigner more interested in Hanover than in England. His way of softening the English power structure’s harsh, if essentially accurate, view of him was to entertain it with barge parties.

We know there were royal parties on the Thames in the summers of 1715, 1716, and 1717. Handel probably provided music for those occasions, but the only account that actually mentions him is a letter from Friedrich Bonet, a Prussian diplomat, describing a party on July 17, 1717:

At about eight in the evening the King repaired to his barge. Next to the King’s barge was that of the musicians, about 50 in number – trumpets, horns, oboes, German [i.e, transverse] flutes, French flutes [i.e. recorders], violins, and basses, but no singers.The music had been composed specially by the famous Handel, a native of Halle and his Majesty’s principal court composer. His Majesty’s approval of it was so great that he caused it to be played three times in all, twice before and once after supper, even though each performance lasted an hour.

The evening was as fine as could be desired for this occasion and the number of barges and boats full of people wanting to listen was beyond counting.

Though Bonet’s account describes the length and instrumentation of the Water Music more or less as we know it today, the earliest surviving score of “the celebrated Water Musick” dates from the 1730s, after Handel had been using the music in his theatrical presentations just as he used concertos, likely making changes for those occasions as was his practice. As we now know it, the Water Music consists of the two suites on this program – the “horn” suite in F and the “flute” suite in G – and a “trumpet” suite in D.
Typically for Handel, the suites don’t fit any particular mold. The G-major Suite consists of movements that are dances in all but name (Handel did not give them all titles). The F-major Suite is a sort of extended modified French suite, with a stately Lullian beginning to its Overture and some dance movements interspersed with non-dance movements. Handel’s striking use of the horns would have been all the more remarkable in 1717, when horns were rare in orchestras. As far as anyone knows, neither Handel nor any English composer had used horns before, but they have a more prominent role in the Water Music than the solo violins in the concerto that opens this program.

Wikipedia on The Water Music

[Note that not all pressings contains precisely the movements shown below, and they may be in slightly different order as well.]

Suite (Nr. 25)

A1 Ouverture
A2 Adagio E Staccato
A3 (Allegro) – Andante – (Allegro)
A4 Allegro
A5 Air
A6 Menuet
A7 Bourrée
A8 Hornpipe
A9 Allegro
A10 Allegro
A11 Alla Hornpipe

Suite in D major (HWV 349)

A1 Overture
A2 Alla Hornpipe
A3 Minuet
A4 Lentement
A5 Bourree

Suite in G major (HWV 350)

A1 Allegro
A2 Rigaudon
A3 Allegro
A4 Minuet
A5 Allegro

Wikipedia on the Berlin Philharmonic

The Berlin Philharmonic (German: Berliner Philharmoniker, formerly Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester; BPO) is an orchestra based in Berlin, Germany. In 2006, a group of ten European media outlets voted the Berlin Philharmonic number three on a list of “top ten European Orchestras”, after the Vienna Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, while in 2008 it was voted the world’s number two orchestra in a survey among leading international music critics organized by the British magazine Gramophone (behind the Concertgebouw).

Its primary concert venue is the Philharmonie, located in the Kulturforum area of the city. Since 2002, its principal conductor has been Sir Simon Rattle. The BPO also supports several chamber music ensembles. The funding for the organization is subsidized by the city of Berlin and a partnership with Deutsche Bank.

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