Statue of Handel (Photo by Neurobite)
Artillery Row Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Too formal for the pub

Mr Händel im pub: Baroque meets folk (Arcantus)


I had high hopes of this album, an attempt by period musicians to recreate the kind of stuff that might — repeat, might — have been performed in London pubs during the early 18th century. Henry Purcell, who hung out far too much in London hostelries, was recently dead. Handel, who went in for heavy eating rather than heavy drinking, was newly arrived from Germany and still finding his way around the city’s entertainment venues. Match their music with the rougher folk trade that, then as now, played at esoteric drinking holes, and the collusion promised possible enlightenment.

There is no edge to this playing, no with a pack of drinkers

The first flaw in the proposition is found in the title. Handel never played in pubs and dropped the umlaut from his name before he could wipe the first English breakfast from his chops. The second shortcoming is the seriousness of the musicianship. Ensemble I Zeffirelli are impeccably trained early music performers of German extraction. They play traditional numbers like “Fig for a Kiss” with the same attentiveness as they apply to Purcell’s eighth sonata and Handel’s flute sonata. It’s all perfectly well done, as if for a subsidy audition, but without a trace of the requisite formlessness and anarchy of a night at a riverside pub.

A reading of Samuel Pepys diaries might have helped things along. There is no edge to this playing, no interaction with a putative pack of drinkers. A singer might have helped too, likewise a slash of dissonance, but the whole recital barely cracks a smile. Great title, shame about the music.

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