The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra are a youthful body who play, conductorless, with an infectious enthusiasm. They play with enormous spirit, and they do extraordinarily well to shape the music so strongly and so effectively with no controlling hand (at least, not one that doesn't have a bow or a fiddle in it). These marvellous concertos, so rich and original in invention, and so deeply felt, respond remarkably well to their high spirits. The Orpheus have an excellent feeling for the right tempo, and for the robustness that Handel's music demands but these days does not always receive.
All the fugal movements — there is one in every concertoRead more except No. 8 — are done with plenty of vigour and a boldness to match the wilful lines of Handel's subjects: try No. 3 (done rather quickly, but effectively and powerfully shaped), or No. 6 (splendidly punched out), or No. 10 (played rather severely, and very impressively), The beautiful Musette in No. 6 is done gently and pensively. There is wit in their playing too — try here the second movement of No. 1, or the second of No. 12, or one of the dance finales, or almost any movement of No. 5, whose D major brilliance suits the Orpheus specially well. I thought the opening movement of No. 2 rather nonchalant, wanting in weight and intensity but generally the more serious movements are quite outstandingly done: the gravity and the quirkiness of the Largo of No. 2 are very well captured, for example, and the brief Largo which opens No. 7 has due emotional weight, as does the curious first movement of No. 9 (its odd uneventfulness seems here perfectly reasonable; the effect is of a noble simplicity). The Lentement of No. 10 is done with a real sense of mystery, while the opening of No. 3 is duly solemn and that of No. 4 eloquent almost to the point of being romantic in feeling. That is not in fact the only music here that has a rather romantic aura: try too the Siciliana of No. 9 — and there are a few movements that seem excessively legato.
... [T]hese are very accomplished performances, and very musical ones, done by players who have a real feeling for the flow and the grandeur of Handel's music, and show by their attentiveness to the harmonies and the interweaving lines that they understand how it makes its effects: and the breadth, the sense of shape, the flux of tensions of a movement, which so often elude modern Handel performers, are finely realized — try listening to some of the large-scale movements, like the second of No. 9 or the last of No. II.
... [T]he character of these concertos is so appealingly caught that I am more than happy to recommend it to anyone who loves these works, and perhaps still more so to anyone unfortunate enough not to know them.
– Gramophone [11/1996]
WATER MUSIC, MUSIC FOR THE ROYAL FIREWORKS
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra hurl themselves into the robust spirit of the music with exhilarating zeal. Their playing of the resplendent French overture to the Fireworks Music is supple and resonant, introducing a real sense of occasion which Handel most certainly intended. Sometimes I found the orchestra's tendency towards clipped articulation a little predictable but this is a very minor point in the context of so much else that is first-rate.
The Water Music is sensibly subdivided into three suites, each anchored to its own key and dominated by an instrument of a contrasting timbre: a horn for the Suite in F, a trumpet for the Suite in D and a flute for the G major Suite, the most modestly scored of the three. The performances are, as I say, full of spirit and technically highly refined. An occasional predilection for rubato sounds somewhat anachronistic as do one or two of the rallentandos at closing cadences but one can only marvel at the precision of ensemble, the clarity of articulation and the sheer joie de vivre which these players bring to Handel's music. Textures are admirably translucent and this quality in the playing is further enhanced by a sympathetic if slightly dry recording acoustic. The various woodwind groups are effectively balanced and I especially enjoyed the ensemble playing of oboes and bassoon which often feature prominently as in the concluding movement of the F major Suite. The solo flute ornaments in the G major Suite however, struck me as lacking in propriety and considerably at odds with all else in this performance.
Little more need be said. It is a great joy to hear modern instrumentalists approach baroque music in such an enlightened way.
Concerti Grossi (12), Op. 6, HWV 319-330by George Frideric Handel Orchestra/Ensemble:
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque Written: 1739 Date of Recording: 1993-94 Venue: SUNY Purchase, Purchase, New York Length: 133 Minutes 34 Secs.
Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351by George Frideric Handel Orchestra/Ensemble:
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque Written: 1749; London, England Date of Recording: 12/1990 Venue: SUNY Purchase, Purchase, New York Length: 18 Minutes 31 Secs.
Water Music, HWV 348-350by George Frideric Handel Orchestra/Ensemble:
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque Written: 1715/1736; London, England Date of Recording: 12/1990 Venue: SUNY Purchase, Purchase, New York Length: 46 Minutes 49 Secs.
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