Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2000 and the recording is still available.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Water Music HWV 348
Fireworks Music HWV351
Berliner Philharmoniker/Fritz Lehman
rec. 1951/52. Mono
Presto CD
Archiv Produktion 457758-2 [70]

As a recent convert to modern instrument baroque performance after an indigestion of period practices in the 90’s I was inestimably thrilled by the magnificent music making that permeates this wonderful disc. It is indeed tribute to the outstanding perception of Dr Fred Hamel and the tragically short-lived Fritz Lehmann, a conductor of outstanding capabilities who was to shine through the 50’s era. These early 50’s recordings are full of character and poise, dashing allegros and stately menuets rub shoulders with frequent intimacy, all is a complete example of Handelian joie de vivre at its best.

Clarity of strings and delectable woodwinds are a constant feature of this Water Music with some wonderfully trenchant minuets and a rousing Overture that has the BPO in bubbly and infectious mood. This geniality flows throughout the twenty odd movements of this wonderful Water Music that should take its place as one of the most desirable ever. I found myself completely amazed by the hallowed clarity of the recording, although it is in mono all definitions are perfectly delineated. With the Fireworks Music Lehmann and the BPO are really on home ground.

The notes explain Lehman’s connection with the Gottingen Festival and the celebratory pomp of this suite is unforgettable for its exhaustive spirit and infectious vitality. The expansive Overture has some grand moments but when the allegros come in, they are really magnificent. Just sample the closing Menuet II for pomp and pageantry with a swift tempo, the sense of occasion is indeed quite irresistible. There have been many good indeed some outstanding recordings of this coupling but I cannot think of a better one after basking in the glories of Archiv’s splendid mono sound and the inimitable charm of Lehmann and his team of BPO virtuosi.

It is indeed shameful that the over-exposed period instrument movement and glut of mediocre recordings relegated such magnificent music making to the attic, for this reissue preserves an important, indeed authoritative addition to the Handelian discography. However I detect that the practices of the past are slowly finding favor and this disc should be an example that big can be beautiful too!

Gerald Fenech

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