Handel Fireworks Music; Concerti a due cori
A coupling of the Music for the Royal Fireworks with two of the so-called Concerti ''a due cori'' offers rousing entertainment and Trevor Pinnock, with his characteristic feeling for extrovert Handel, makes the most of it. Enthusiasts for period instruments will have realized by now that in the two F major Concertos ''a due cori'' there are considerable hurdles confronting both brass and woodwind players. Indeed, having listened to three such performances this year I am beginning to wonder if some of the technical problems are not insuperable. Standards of ensemble and intonation are invariably high amongst the musicians of The English Concert yet even they cannot always conceal the difficulties in bringing Handel's wind choirs to heel. But having said that I must hasten to concede the superiority of these versions over any of their rivals.
The most polished and exciting playing occurs in the Fireworks Music, which may be described without figurative impropriety as a radiant catherine-wheel of a performance. Pinnock does not attempt to complete with the size of the forces which were said to have taken part in the 1749 performance; instead, he has used three horns, three trumpets, three oboes, three bassoons, a contra-bassoon, four flutes (for La paix), 21 string players, drums and a harpsichord. That seems about ideal to me since the strands of these extremely rich textures can be clearly presented without resorting to an excessively artificial balance. Archiv Produktion have done a notably good job in this respect, allowing us to hear every note of Handel's supple and vigorous bass line which, incidentally, fares better under Pinnock's direction than I can recall ever having previously heard. Each movement is vividly characterized from the radiant, ceremonial gestures of the opening. French Overture to the splendid D major Menuet at the end which swaggers along, confident and replete.
The concertos are both given effective performances, too. Handel wrote three such works for string orchestra with two wind choirs. The two on this record feature a pair of horns in each of the wind bands whilst another, in B flat, is scored for strings and woodwind only. I very much hope that the remaining one will appear shortly; it's an attractive work with a particularly engaging Menuet to conclude it. The recorded sound both on LP and CD is reasonably spacious, beautifully clear and entirely free from distortion. But who is the figure on the end-cover of the CD booklet? He doesn't appears on the LP sleeve and he isn't credited anywhere. He does look like Handel, so we must assume that he is.'