To tell the truth, I hesitated for quite a while before ordering this period instrument reading of Handel's famous Water Music Suites. I have any number of other worthy performances, sitting on the fav shelves; and I just couldn't talk myself into more. Until - that is - I heard a few samples of this disc. Then, the choice to order was decided by sampling.
It's not as if I expected the conductor or the period band to be lacking or uninteresting. Their other releases have built a solid musical reputation; no reason not to expect that their Water Music would be just as good. But to my ears this reading is better than good, whether I compare with other period instrument readings or with other modern instrument readings from the existing fav shelves.
The suites are ordered, first, third, second. The overture of the first suite opens with warm, harmonious playing. Tempos are lively yet relaxed. The articulation is pert, colorful, and pointed - particularly in the ensemble and string sections. The nimble bottom strings both enliven the musical flow, as well as giving added heft so that gut strings do not for any moment sound thin or anemic. When the woodwinds take off on solos in the Adagio e Staccato second movement of the first suite, the colorful tonal palette is enlarged and enriched. By the time the third movement has brought in those famous horns with their hunting horn gestures burring along, the abiding thrill is not at all cheap.
Continuo is provided by harpsichord and theorbo. These instruments are not only period; but played in keeping with the overall high gifts of the playing throughout all three suites. The shifting textures from ripieno-like to concertino-like are deft, varied, as full of touch and color in the chamber sized configurations as in the full band going full tilt.
So credit Labadie and the band with considerable magic in music making, all without the gunshot touches of strong-aggressive playing which stir up excitement and force in so many other readings, modern or period inclined. I like those readings, too, and still I am won over by Labadie and players.
David Vernier over at ClassicsToday.com was also impressed, so I'm not the only listener persuaded. Vernie gives this disc a ten for sound, and ten for performance. I would agree, except that Amazon awards five stars to top notch discs, so that must be the rating here.
The infinite musical care plus the sheer elegance of the reading will perhaps last longer than others, or at least, as long as the alternatives we can find in the available catalog. After the first deep chimes of elegant music making have charmed a listener soul, glints of dance keep welling up with all sparkling intent and sophistication. Legend has it that this music won over a fussy King, and if you join royal fan-dom, you may be carried high beyond your commoner social station. Not just music for court, these days.
The disc winds up with dollops of an overture and sinfonia ("Arrival of the Queen of Sheba")from Handel's Solomon oratorio. It would be really nice to have a complete Solomon from Labadie and company if all involved can manage this level of performance and insight. It would take gifted singers to match their instrumental gifts, indeed.
As other reviewers have said, Outstanding. Five stars. If this is your first Water Music you will hardly soon outgrow it; if this is your umpteenth, then welcome, maturity and experience, to the fav shelves. Outstanding.