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    Handel`s Water Music: Recreating a Royal Spectacular

    5 / 10


    On July 17th, 1717, King George I was carried in a sedan chair from Whitehall to Westminster, where he embarked on a short journey up the Thames to Chelsea accompanied by a flotilla of barges, several of the highest ranking Lords and Ladies of the time, and an orchestra playing music by George Frederick Handel which was originally intended just for this occasion, but has since become one of the most popular pieces of music ever written.

    The subtitle of the DVD is `Recreating a Royal Spectacular`, but don`t expect a full multi-barged historical re-enactment such as with the funeral of Nelson we saw on the Thames earlier this year. This is purely an attempt to get the English Concert dressed up in contemporary gear and play the favourite chunks of the Water Music while being tugged and pushed (they only had a `dumb` barge for the occasion, and so couldn`t steer) along the same route.


    The 16:9 anamorphic video quality is excellent, as is to be expected from a recent TV production.


    The sound is also fine. You can choose between LPCM stereo or DTS, and both versions bring out the music and narration clearly. The one little annoyance is that (unless there was some very clever microphone work going on - and I`m willing to accept there may have been) it seems very likely that the music we hear on the trip up the Thames was a recorded version the English Concert made beforehand, with some very subtle London sounds added onto the background. I find it hard to believe that a performance of Baroque music floating down the Thames on a balmy Summer evening would not have been interrupted by several Heathrow-bound jets, various sirens, and general heavy traffic noise. Having said that, I have no complaints about the music. Andrew Manze is a fine musical director who has few equals in this style, and the `recorded` performance is one of the best I`ve heard.


    Extras include an indexed performance (all the same shots as the main feature) of the `favourite` movements of the work with the option of three `angles`, two of which (both very similar) are pictorial views of the Thames and its environs as it would have looked at the time. It was quite entertaining to flick to these views from the present-day shots to see that it was indeed `all fields in them days`.

    Subtitles are available in French, German, Italian and Spanish, and the DVD includes a booklet which gives all the information you may need about the music and its origins.


    The research into the political reasons for the original Thames party was fascinating, and it would have been great if more time was spent on this as the main feature is only an hour long. As one of the quintessential pieces of `English` music, there was an awful lot of European influence, not least the fact that Handel was German and only arrived in the country three years previously on the invitation of the new King, who himself was only King due to the fact that he was a Protestant, and Queen Anne had died before bearing any heirs. However, bring 58th in line to the English throne obviously didn`t seem to much of a problem to Parliament, until George began to use English resources to pursue his interests in Hanover. George needed to boost his image a little, and this rather lavish party was seen to be the best way of preserving the importance of the monarchy by showing off as much wealth and power as possible.

    The part of the film dealing with accoustics while playing on the river was mildly entertaining, but considering what I mentioned in the Audio section, perhaps a little pointless. We found out that a solo horn and trumpet are considerably louder than a solo violin and double bass, a fact which was probably not lost on those living nearby either. More valuable was the all-too-short item on the differences between the Baroque instruments and their present-day counterparts.

    The highlight of the disc is clearly the excellent performance by The English Concert. In the build-up to the reconstruction, we are `narrated at` by Peter Ackroyd in a slightly stilted manner, but learn far more from those brought in for the occasion to help with the historical accuracy of the occasion, not least Andrew Manze himself, who is superb at getting down to the nitty-gritty of being a violinist in the early 18th Century. Everyday problems of getting your bow stuck in your wig, and having cuffs too long so they get in the way of your fingers can really be a pain. Other musicians (we are introduced to a select few) have to go through the ignominy of having to shave off their prized beards - facial hair was a big no-no in those days, and some were introduced, by way of impressive wigs, to more hair than they had seen for years. Funnily enough, even after stating categorically that there were no professional female players at the time, which isn`t to say there were no female musicians, the women of the English Concert still took part (cross dressing is great isn`t it?). So historical accuracy only stretched to beards in this case.

    So, musically speaking, this disc is quite satisfactory, but everything is just a little too contrived.

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