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PROMS 2002

PROM 6: Handel, ‘Israel in Egypt’ English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner, Royal Albert Hall, Tuesday July 23rd 2002. (ME)


Ah, the silly season is truly upon us, at least as far as critics are concerned. I open my ‘Evening Standard’ to read yet another diatribe against the Proms, or at least the Proms as they are televised – Norman Lebrecht being away, Brian Hunt is today (July 24th) given an entire page to rant about how the concerts are being ‘ruined’ by the TV lights/ cameras / cameramen etc… one would have thought it might have been quite enough to have Brian dismissing Saturday’s performance of ‘The Creation’ (in his ‘review’ earlier this week) as not worth commenting upon because of the lighting effects, which I barely noticed, and which did not prevent me from writing at length about it! I have news for the ‘Evening Standard;’ TV is not destroying the Proms, but bringing them to a much wider audience than ever before, and the cameras and crews have proved no annoyance at all, either to me or to anyone else I know.

‘Israel in Egypt’ was once described as ‘too solemn for common ears’ and it is indeed a sober narrative, but one enlivened by colourful word setting and capable of enthralling the audience when given such a performance as this one. John Eliot Gardiner conducted a sharply etched, unfussy, absolutely dynamic account of the score, and the Monteverdi Choir responded to him as though they could anticipate his thoughts - the result was perfection of a slightly eerie kind. The English Baroque Soloists played with real finesse, their finest moments including the shimmering halo of strings around ‘…he led them forth like sheep,’ and the sublime woodwind tone at ‘He gave them hailstones…’

‘So where are the soloists?’ whispered someone in front of me, not having grasped the fact that they were right there as integral parts of the choir, dressed in the same black & white of the lowliest alto, and quite right too, since this is a work which is centred in its choruses. Making the words tell, is what it’s all about here, and there were times when you felt you could almost reach out and touch some of those consonants, especially in ‘They loathed to drink of the river…’ and ‘He sent a thick darkness over all the land,’ and most of all ‘Thy right hand, O Lord’ which really had the audience on the edge of their seats. The ‘soloists’ all acquitted themselves well, with stirring performances from Michael Bundy and Daniel Jordan in the marvellous bass duet ‘The Lord is a man of war’ but the finest singing came from Gillian Keith and Daniel Taylor, both well known to London audiences. Gillian Keith might be called the ‘soprano most likely to take on the mantle of Emma Kirkby’ one day, since her voice has a similar purity and silvery quality; she sang all her music with exquisite phrasing and blended beautifully with Katharine Fuge in their duets.

Daniel Taylor’s is a small, sweet countertenor, but his performance was stamped with a style and personality which set him apart; both ‘And the children of Israel’ and ‘Thou shalt bring them in’ were sung with fluency and directness, the latter producing one of those ‘you could have heard a pin drop’ passages during ‘…the sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.’ Beautiful singing, and overall a stirring performance of a great work which one would have welcomed hearing at a ‘mainstream’ time, perhaps paired with something like a selection of arias for tenor and alto.

Melanie Eskenazi

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