You might think that Handel's Water Music, HWV 348-350, arguably the most familiar piece of Baroque music (the Four Seasons of Vivaldi can give it a run for its money, but its popularity is more recent), has received every possible interpretation. And you would be wrong, as the musicians of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin have shown in this Harmonia Mundi release, precisely recorded in Berlin's Teldex studio. You get a steady parade of innovations here, marked overall by, but not in the least restricted to, blisteringly fast tempos that turn the horn-dominated movements into tests of virtuosity. Unexpected dynamic contrasts and the unusual rhythmic treatment of the "Overture" to the Suite No. 1 (sample track one) are other novelties, but this veteran group is not out for shock value. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin operate without a conductor, and their coordination in these crisp prestos is worth the price of admission in itself. Their ability to act as one in really unusual shapings of each individual movement is remarkable, and the treacherous horn parts are near perfection in the hands of Erwin Wieringa and Miroslav Rovenský.
"Bach's unfinished Art of Fugue, published for still-debated reasons in open score, has been performed and recorded in dozens of different instrumental versions. But this one, by the veteran Akademie für alte Musik, founded in the former East Berlin, is unique; few others have differentiated the fugues by instrumental forces deployed, and perhaps in none has the overall effect been quite so kaleidoscopic as this one. (…) The sound engineering, a product of Berlin's Teldex Studio, is a major strong point." ~allmusic
…Harmonia Mundi's impeccable engineering provides the finishing touch on a disc that must count as one of the most amazing and enjoyable baroque recitals of this or any other year.
…The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin scores a triumph with these fresh, powerful, and ever-stylish performances that even long-time connoisseurs shouldn’t be without. And if you’re new to C.P.E., you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
The circumstances that moved Bach to relinquish his position as Kapellmeister in the placid town of Cothen in 1723 and to assume the succession of Johann Kuhnau as Cantor of St. Thomas's in Leipzig are, like so many factors in his biography, not easy to explain. Was it out of concern that, as a court musician, he would be obliged to neglect one of his most outstanding gifts as a virtuosic organist? was it because of his princely employer's gradual loss of interest in music in general and in his small, but exquisite court orchestra in particular? Or was it the gruelling religious conflict, a never ending source of agitation at the residence, where the conversion to Calvinism was a rather half-hearted affair and which posed a growing threat to the freedom of Bach's artistic activities? Question upon question. The fact that Bach's professional dreams were by no means to be fulfilled as Cantor in Leipzig, either, is amply documented: in an endless epistolary feud about what seem to be no more than ludicrously trivial vexations, but which none the less aggravated the burden of the virtually superhuman catalogue of his duties, he was constantly at loggerheads with his superiors.