February 16, 2006


Handel: Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks. Aradia Ensemble conducted by Kevin Mallon. Naxos. $8.99.

Haydn: Piano Music. Jenő Jandó, piano. Naxos. $8.99.

     Here are two nicely performed CDs of music that is pleasant to hear – one CD of super-familiar material and one whose offerings are less well known.  Neither CD is a must-have, but both have much to recommend them.

     Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks have been recorded so often that it is unimaginable for a classical-music lover not to have at least one recording of both works – perhaps several.  The Aradia Ensemble’s performance has interesting elements, such as use of a transverse flute – specified in the original manuscript but not used in other recordings – and inclusion of a military side drum in the Overture to Royal Fireworks, reflecting Handel’s original plan to use military instruments in this outdoor music.  But this is scarcely a true “original orchestration” performance, since it uses the strings that Handel added later rather than a band consisting entirely of wind instruments.  The mixture of adherence and non-adherence to Handel’s original intentions is a bit odd.  There are some peculiarities in Water Music as well.  Kevin Mallon paces all the music interestingly but sometimes capriciously, choosing faster tempi than usual in many sections and thus giving these well-known pieces an extra sense of liveliness and verve – but also keeping things a bit too brisk at times.  Whether the overall approach works is a matter of one’s individual preference.  Mallon balances his forces skillfully, the players are quite fine, and it is certainly nice to have both these standard-repertoire Handel works on one CD.  This may not be a first choice among available recordings, but a collector looking for a third or fourth version will find much to like in Mallon’s somewhat unusual approach.

     The Haydn works played by Jenő Jandó are not nearly as well known as the Handel ones.  This Haydn CD has no unifying theme: the pieces are unrelated.  All are well constructed and at least modestly interesting to hear, though Haydn’s piano music does not have the staying power of Mozart’s (the younger composer was a virtuoso pianist; Haydn was not).  The longest work here is Twenty Variations in G Major, based on a simple dance theme handled skillfully.  Theme and Variations in C Major is a later work of more modest scope.  Capriccio in G Major is based on a simple folk song whose topic seems quite odd today: castration of a boar.  Arietta con 12 Variazoni is based on the minuet of the composer’s Quartet, Op. 9, No. 2.  The Variations on “Gott erhalte” use Haydn’s famous Emperor’s Hymn from his Quartet, Op. 76, No. 3.  Divertimento: Il Maestro e lo Scolare is for piano four hands – here, Jandó is joined by Zsuzsa Kollár – and is a two-movement work designed for teaching purposes.  The CD adds up to something of a mishmash, with pieces from different time periods and of different levels of interest following one another.  Some of these works were probably written for harpsichord, others for a square piano or other early pianoforte – certainly not the modern instrument Jandó uses.  The CD is enjoyable to listen to – Haydn’s music can withstand far more idiosyncrasies than it faces here – but ultimately comes across as a minor compilation of less-than-significant works.

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