Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks; Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Graham Abbott – ABC Classics 476 4300

Handel’s instrumental writing shows no less ability than his writing for the voice. And whilst he was extremely popular, not only with the public, but also the King for his operatic output, two large scale orchestral works stand out. Written at either end of his career, the Royal Fireworks Suite and the Water Music Suites (written 32 years earlier) must have dazzled audiences for its use of strings, brass and woodwind.

Whether it was the music, the potential spectacle, or the notion that the King may be seen, it caused 12,000 people to pay to attend the rehearsal of Handel’s Royal Fireworks in its first public outing. The crowd was so vast that it caused London’s first official traffic jam!

The music accompanied a display of fireworks, which occurred a week later on 27 April, 1749 and featured an enormous wooden structure built for the occasion in London’s Green Park.

The Royal Fireworks has an Overture, Bouree, La Paix (Peace), La Rejouissance (Rejoicing) and two Minuets. And what glorious music it is! One should suspect that any monarch was have been most pleased with such dignified, elegant and at times exciting and joyous music.

The Water Music Suites comprise actually three sets (at least that is what many musicologists have considered since no original manuscript of the work exists) and provides no lesser pleasure. Traditionally the order of the music has been organised in three groups: F major (with horns), D major (with horns and trumpets), and G major (with flutes). On this recording, we hear the F major and D major suites with a slight rearrangement of movements in the latter.

Graham Abbott provides some fine notes about the work and the performance practice of the day. He defends (as if he needs to) the use of a symphony orchestra in the performance of Handel, when up against the moral position often taken by early music purists.

“In recording these Handel works with the TSO, the players and I have applied many lessons learned from our period-instrument colleagues. Most orchestral players today are very well informed with regard to issues of phrasing, articulation, tempo relationships and style in 18th-century music, and it has been a journey of discovery and delight for all of us in looking again at this wonderful music,” states Abbott.