This box set brings together nearly all of the orchestral recordings made by Pinnock and his orchestra in the 1980s. The disc of overtures is missing and a few other items but the main substance of his coverage is all here.
The recordings themselves are admirably clear, well balanced and carry their age lightly. The performances themselves are consistently satisfying and could be described as main-stream period performances. By that I mean that Pinnock does not explore the extremes of tempo and dynamics favoured by some of the more recent Italian groups for instance, nor does he impose an out of period feel of 'interpretation.'
For these very desirable reasons these recordings have been mainstays of the catalogue for over 30 years and there is no good reason to doubt their continued musical value. At the time, of course, simply by being 'period' recordings they were ground-breaking. They introduced the clarity and revised instrumental balances to audiences of the time and this was nothing less than startling in its effect.
In the intervening years that has become the norm for music of this period and the reverse is now true. That is, that performances with a full modern orchestra would have the same shock effect. That change in our attitudes and expectations is due in no small part to Pinnock and his colleagues and to these discs.
This is a substantial box of Handel's orchestral work, all of which is well played and recorded and which could be called middle of the road period performance. The pricing is very attractive. For many collectors there is limited value in the set simply because all the discs have been previously bought. However, for new collectors the set will be immensely tempting.
I would suggest that temptation to buy for those without this music is something to be encouraged bearing in mind the excellence of the set and its comprehensiveness.
To give a reasonable guide to the box contents my original reviews of the currently available individual discs included in the box are copied below:
disc 1: Water Music The music on this disc, very well recorded in the early 1980's, perfectly brings together The Water Music and The Fireworks Music suites previously found on separate issues. It was at this time that period music performance was finally surging ahead as a result of considerably improved player skills in terms of overcoming the obstacles posed by the older styles of instruments. The English Concert under Trevor Pinnock was a major influence in this development and these two suites were major successes within that success.
Today, thirty years later, they retain their appeal. The tuning, particularly in the woodwind is no longer a problem for listeners and the earlier acerbic string timbres have disappeared. The brass and timpani are satisfyingly punchy without being overwhelming. The textures have been clarifies so that every orchestral detail 'tells' and the internal balance is now clearly correct.
In addition, Pinnock consistently chooses exactly the most appropriate tempi for maximum effect and the music is able to both 'dance' and to be heroic and majestic as appropriate. Everything feels just right.
For many this pair of performances was the definitive statement at the time of their first issue and has remained so ever since. There is little that can be said to challenge that.
I would therefore suggest that prospective new purchasers should, at the very least, give this very fine disc the most serious consideration.
disc 2: Fireworks & horn concertos This disc, very well recorded in 1984, presents the Fireworks music on period instruments but in the version that includes the strings. Pinnock later recorded the version that used a large wind band. The rest of this disc features two concertos for two horns which prove to be thoroughly entertaining.
The playing throughout is excellent as one would expect from this very experienced group of players. Pinnock's conducting is also very much as one would expect from him offering an idiomatic account of the music which delivers spectacle and bravura along with grandeur. This is perfectly suited to the subject of Fireworks.
The two concertos are very skilfully performed and prove to be highly entertaining. One of the entertainments being to spot the considerable amount of recycled material used in these works. Handel was a past master at maximising his opportunities and was quick to re-use successful material in further compositions. These two concertos are very much derivative pieces and none the worse for it.
I would suggest that this is an enthralling disc of highly entertaining music played superbly and with excellent sound. As such it is very well worth considering as a purchase option. ........................................................
A most enjoyable and admirable set of Handels most important orchestral output. Trevor Pinnock and the English concert were the best interpretors of baroque music at this time (early 1980'ies) - and to get these excellent remasters all in one box is a bargain hard to resist for any lover of classical music. More modern (i e "original") interpreatations have come later, Il Giardino Armonico under Rinaldo Allesandrini in the Concerti grossi for example. I personally enjoy both ways of playing, but in different ways. Illustrating the freedom that composers generally gave to interpretors in the 18'th century. I find no good reasons not to buy this set, especially to this price. Close to 5 stars!