Today's Classical Music Video

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Norrington Conducts Handel

Roger Norrington and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performing excerpts from Handel's Water Music. I must confess that I am still skeptical about the use of the period instruments and so-called authentic performance practice. Fortunately, we have got past the time when period instrument ensembles could get away with poor intonation and generally inferior playing. The excuse was always made that these instruments are "really hard to play" and "to do it properly we need time to get the hang of it." Fair enough, and for concertgoers the novelty of the sound was usually enough.

But a lot of time has past since Harnoncourt, Hogwood, Pinnock, Norrington, Gardiner and our own Tafelmusik began their search for authenticity. And there is no question that the playing has improved. There also seems to be more room for "interpretation" and "expression" than there was in the early days.
In the end it does matter what the composer intended and how the music actually sounded at its first performance, and performing musicians need to deal with these issues. However, one of the lessons of the authenticity movement is what many musicians and thoughtful listeners knew already. Determining the intentions of a composer who lived more than 250 years ago, and knowing how the music sounded are problems with no definitive answers. The quest must go on but the search is neverending.
This video is a good example of how far we have come in understanding and mastering old instruments. The playing here is wonderful. Norrington is wonderful too in his seemingly casual style of conducting. Of course, most of his work has been done in rehearsal. But Norrington is also remarkable as being a pioneer in the authentic performance movement, as well as a first-rate conductor of all kinds of music with all kinds of ensembles. He recently stepped down from a long stint as conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony. With this orchestra he has recorded a great deal of standard repertoire - Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Mahler, Beethoven, Elgar - but he has also taught the orchestra something of what he has learned about music from the Baroque and Classical periods.
Paul E. Robinson

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