Pianist/composer Jacques Loussier has been swinging the classics for more than four decades now—ever since he formed the Play Bach Trio in the late '50s, when the union of his classical background with his interest in jazz created a remarkable success story. The trio toured extensively, selling over six million albums in fifteen years, and then disbanded.
In 1985, the Bach tercentenary prompted Loussier to reform his trio with two new members and return to his jazzy spin on the classics. For Telarc, his first two recordings were reinterpretations of baroque music: Jacques Loussier Plays Bach (CD-83411) and Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (CD-83417). He then expanded the trio's musical language with recordings of music by the French composers Satie (CD-83431), Ravel (CD-83466), and Debussy (CD-83511). Loussier returned to music of the baroque era with Baroque Favorites (CD-83591), which featured re-workings of popular scores by Pachelbel, Handel, Albinoni, Marin Marais, and more.
On his newest recording for Telarc, Loussier and the members of his talented trio—bassist Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac and drummer Andre Arpino—concentrate on the music of Handel, with fresh new settings of two of the master composer's most popular works: Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Also featured is Handel's Passacaglia, from Suite No. 7 in G Minor.
Both the scores to Handel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks were written on commission for King George II of England. The Fireworks Music, which became Handel's last orchestral work, was commissioned to celebrate the end of the Austrian War of Succession and the signing of the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1748. All of Europe celebrated the peace with fireworks, and the English king imported the Chevalier Servandoni from France to design a spectacular display. He also commanded Handel to write a grand piece for the occasion that featured only "war-like instruments"—by which he meant winds and percussion, and no strings. The actual fireworks display took place on April 27, 1749, and due to many "technical difficulties," was a failure, but Handel's music was a brilliant success.
Decades earlier, in July 1717, the king gave a water party. He traveled up the River Thames on a great barge to Chelsea, where he and his invited guests, also on barges, disembarked for supper. After they had eaten, the entire group returned to the barges and sailed back to Whitehall Palace. Handel's music was played throughout the evening, both outside while the king was floating on the water and inside during the meal. It consisted of a collection of three suites in different keys and for different combinations of instruments.
As with the pieces on Loussier's Baroque Favorites, the works on this new recording are familiar to many listeners. Loussier's challenge is always to maintain the essence of the composer's musical intentions and still bring something fresh and new to his own arrangements. "If you respect the spirit of the composer," he said, "you improvise in the same style—then you have the impression that the composer himself is improvising his own music."
Loussier's Trio keeps the sense and the style of these two great works intact, using sparse and witty improvisations, color and rhythm to recast them in a swinging style. Listeners will enjoy Loussier's varied approach to track 7 (familiar to many as "Hornpipe," often used as a recessional march in wedding ceremonies), in which he uses displaced beats and jazzy improvisatory piano riffs to give it a completely fresh sensibility while retaining its joyful air of celebration. The closing trio movement (track 9) breaks into a snappy Latin rhythm.
Loussier adds jazz harmonies to the stately opening chords of the Overture to the Fireworks Music, and he infuses a short introductory section before the third movement with a Spanish flavor reminiscent of a Granados song. Drummer Andre Arpino keeps the spirit of grandeur alive in his ceremonial percussion flourishes at the opening of the final movement.
Handel's Passacaglia closes the disc. This simple piece, with its ground bass line, gives Loussier a chance to employ one of his favorite schemes—a short form of theme and variations—in which he and his trio members often trade passages back and forth.
Explosive and fluid at the same time, Loussier's Handel: Water Music and Music for Fireworks offers a fresh perspective on the music of one of the most celebrated of all classical composers.