Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Handel with care


It can hardly have escaped readers in the UK that George Frederic Handel died on 14th April, 1759. There is no doubt Handel is a composer of true genius. But, unfortunately, BBC Radio 3 has turned a notable music anniversary into a media event as tasteless, in its own way, as the coverage of the death of Jade Goody. If you have listened to BBC Radio 3 in the last few days I quite understand why you may never want to hear a note of Handel's music again. But here, in the hope of reviving jaded palates, are four suitably overgrown Handel paths.

The perfect antidote to Handel overload is The Cleveland Symphonic Winds recording of The Music for the Royal Fireworks under Frederick Fennell. This was originally issued as an audiophile LP in 1978, and the header photo shows my copy of the original Telarc vinyl release. Handel's Royal Fireworks Music (in an edition prepared by Charles Mackerras and Anthony Baines) is coupled with Holst's Suites for Military Band, and a 'naughty but nice' wind band version of Bach's Fantasia in G major. This LP was a very early Soundstream digital recording made in Severance Hall, Cleveland using just three Schoepps/Studer microphones with no equalisation, and the LP was half-speed mastered. My vinyl pressing still sounds sensational. This quite outstanding example of audio engineering and musical virtuosity deservedly lives on as a very affordable CD.

Naughty but nice Handel also comes in the form of the speculative, but quite gorgeous, reconstruction by Andrew Parrot of the Carmelite Vespers that the composer contributed to when he visited Rome in 1707. The sleeve of the budget priced double CD is seen below, read more here.

There is more authentically inauthentic Handel in the transcriptions of his recorder sonatas for cello and harpsichord played by two members of the Brooke Street Band. But is the sound on the CD inauthentic as well?

Philip Glass and Händel? For the links between Handel and new music try Paul Griffiths' brief but perfectly formed 1997 New York Times review, Minimalism as an 18th-Century Idea.

Handel and the Star Spangled Banner? Well, yes actually. Did you know Jimmy Hendrix was a neighbour of Handel's in London?


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6 comments:

Chester said...

It's Handel, not Händel or (as the French like to write) Haendel.

Pliable said...

Chester, interesting point. His publisher uses Händel. But I have now reverted to the more common spelling. One advantage is that is how the search engines like it.

http://www.boosey.com/shop/prod/H-ndel-Georg-Friedrich-Ezio-hwv-29-Italian-German-vocal-score/2052377

JW said...

That Telarc recording was the first digital recording I ever owned. What a bass drum! An unforgettable recording.

glebowski said...

As ever ! -an interesting article Pliable. Another Fennell favourite of mine was his superb performance of Grainger's "Lincolnshire Posy"

Pliable said...

Glebowski, many thanks for reminding me of that recording by Frederick Fennell of music by Percy Grainger and also Eric Coates.

It was on Mercury Living Presence. I have both the original LP and the CD re-issue.

I have not listened to either for years. You've just prompted me to dig them out. That is another evening's listening sorted - thanks.

G-sus said...

Handel and Marathon race:

When the city of Madrid organised the first Marathon race back in 1978, an anoymous neighbour who lived near the 41th kilometre milestone placed the loudspeakers of his sound system in his balcony facing the street and playing Handel's Hallelujah chorus at full volume in an endless loop while runners passed by. This became a custom that was even announced by the organisation in later editions.

In 1999 the race had to change its course in the last kilometres in order to accomodate the growing number of participants. This would have deprived them from their Handel when they approached the last kilometre. But the association of Handel to the race was so entrenched that the organisation set up a booth at the 41th kilometre milestone with a powerful sound system playing Handel's Hallelujah chorus "as usual".

I can confess that its effect on the runners is really uplifting.