Handel orchestral favourites from the 1950s in a winning combination of old-school polish and unaffected stylistic refinement.
With this and several other albums, Eloquence celebrates the art of Thurston Dart, the harpsichordist, conductor and editor who played a leading role in the early-music revival in postwar Britain. After his death in 1971 at the age of just 49, his fellow harpsichordist Igor Kipnis paid fulsome tribute to ‘a man of many parts’, whose 1954 volume on The Interpretation of Music had attained testamentary authority among his fellow musicians, matched by the skill, style and flourish of his many recordings: ‘He was the ideal musicologist-performer.’
Kipnis singled out this 1959 L’Oiseau-Lyre recording of the Water Music as a classic. Alongside the legendary winds-only account of the Fireworks Music led by Sir Charles Mackerras it was chosen by Stereo Review in 1964 as a defining album in a general introduction to Baroque culture: ‘I cannot think of two other Baroque recordings that I could recommend more unreservedly.’ Dart and his colleague Brian Priestman attempted to reassemble the whole of the Water Music as it had first been heard, on a fine summer’s evening in 1717, played on barges sailing down the Thames.
In his own booklet notes, reprinted in this Eloquence reissue, Dart explained that the LP format had necessitated the omission of some repeats in the music, but that ‘the orchestration on this disc is Handel’s throughout – he was one of the most skilful orchestrators of the 18th century, and may be presumed to have understood what he was doing’.
The couplings are drawn from a pair of Decca albums: overtures directed by Boyd Neel (in 1954) and George Szell (in 1961) with a chaste restraint and lively rhythmic precision that complements the extrovert fantasy of Dart’s performing instincts. Added are two of the Mozart Epistle Sonatas recorded in 1956.
‘The Overtures to Alcina and Berenice are played by the Boyd Neel group with the freshness and hearty gusto typical of that group.’ High Fidelity, September 1956