Handel : Water Musick / Telemann : Wassermusik

Zefiro, Alfredo Bernardini
Arcana A 432

This CD juxtaposes the Water Musick Suites in F, G and D by Handel with the ‘Hamburger Ebbe und Flut’ by Telemann. It is a live recording made in St John’s Smith Square as part of the 2003 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, and, while there is a miraculous absence of audience noise and all the excitement of a live performance, the sound is a little immediate and brittle and surprisingly lacking in the St John’s warmth of acoustic. Calling Telemann’s Suite his Wassermusik draws a direct parallel between the two works, which is frankly disingenuous. While we know that Handel’s Water Musick’s only aquatic association is that is was performed mainly ‘on the river’, Telemann’s suite on the other hand is a thoroughly pelagic affair, with movements associated with Thetis, Neptune, Amphitrite, Tritonus, Aeolus and Zephir and ending with a depiction of the Hamburg ebb and flow, given a particularly tidal performance here, and the singing of lusty boatsmen. The Telemann, scored for strings and oboes doubling recorders, is also very much the poor relative orchestrally of Handel’s Suites with their additional brass, including famously the first orchestral use of horns. Zefiro under the direction of Alfredo Bernardini give all of the music crisp idiomatic performances, although I did find the immediacy of the recorded sound a little wearing – perhaps I would have been no more enamoured of the acoustic of the original performance of the Handel in the open air and ‘on the water’!

D. James Ross

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