Established in 1973 (under a different name), Boston Baroque is probably the United States' finest period-instrument ensemble. About a dozen recordings for Telarc of music by Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Handel, Gluck, and Mozart have brought them to the attention of collectors the world over; several of their CDs have been nominated for Grammy awards.
This newest release, recorded in Worcester, Massachusetts in January 2002, contains very satisfying versions of Handel's two most popular orchestral works. Eschewing the tonal aridity of many similar ensembles, Pearlman and his musicians bring a genuine warmth and splendor to Handel's music, and yet also a transparency and bite made possible by the use of period instruments.
On many recordings, there is a tendency to ham up the Royal Fireworks Music with overly emphatic drum tattoos and exaggeratedly clipped rhythms. Pearlman gives the work's implied spectacle its due, yet this remains a sensitive, stylistically savvy reading – one that would not have upstaged King George II, as the original performance must have done. (Contemporary reports suggest that there were hundreds of musicians involved in the première, and some modern conductors have been daring enough to replicate those forces – not always successfully.)
Pearlman gives us all three of Handel's Water Music suites. His approach to this endlessly gratifying music is alert and regal. Tempos, as in the Royal Fireworks Music, are fast but not unreasonable, and Pearlman's straightforward yet vital conducting ensures that these performances, while "safe," are not boring. Dance rhythms bounce along engagingly, reminding of us Handel's comfort in writing in the manner of French composers of that era and earlier.
One of Telarc's first recordings was a sonically spectacular reading of the Royal Fireworks Music with the Cleveland Symphonic Winds. No longer in search of the "Wow!" factor, Telarc's present production and engineering team (Thomas C. Moore and Jack Renner) produces more quietly outstanding results. There's plenty of brilliance, but also warmth.
Sunny readings, then, and very sunnily recorded by Telarc. No one will be disappointed by this CD.
Copyright © 2007, Raymond Tuttle