“Over the night of 13-14 April 1959 in St Gabriel's Church, Cricklewood, a recording session took place, historic in every way, when the young Charles Mackerras conducted a band of 62 wind players plus nine percussionists in Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks. With no fewer than 26 oboists topping the ensemble, it was only possible to assemble such a band after all concerts and operas had finished for the day.
They began at 11pm and finished at 2.30 in the morning, yet so far from sounding tired or jaded, the players responded to the unique occasion with a fizzing account of Handel's six movements.
The success of this extraordinary project fully justified Mackerras's determination to restore the astonishing array of instruments that Handel himself had assembled for the original performance in Green Park in April 1749.
It's thrilling to hear that 1959 recording, at last transferred to CD, with sound that's still of demonstration quality, full and spacious, with a wide stereo spread. It's true that Mackerras takes the introduction to the overture and the 'Siciliana' at speeds far slower than he would choose today, but this was a recording which marked a breakthrough in what later developed as the period performance movement.
As a coupling for the Fireworks Music, Mackerras devised a composite Concerto a due cori which draws on two works written with that title around 1747. It makes a splendid piece, in which the massed horns bray gloriously.
Whatever the degree of authenticity, this is an electrifying collection, superbly transferred.”