> HANDEL Israel in Egypt Christophers RRC2012 [KM]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Georg Friedrich HAENDEL (1685-1759)
Israel in Egypt

Organ Concerto in F, HWV 295

Nicola Jenkin, soprano
Sally Dunkley, soprano
Caroline Trevor, alto
Neil MacKenzie, tenor
Robert Evans, bass
Simon Birchall, bass
Paul Nicholson, organ
Choir and Orchestra of The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
Rec: St Judes on the Hill, 1993.
REGIS RRC 2012 2CDs [141.39]


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Handel wrote Israel in Egypt in October 1738, when he was 53 years old. This oratorio was intended to appeal to Christians as a work for Lent, and to the important Jewish community in London as a work suitable to Passover. Yet this work met little success - it is a choral oratorio. In its original version, it had only four solo arias and almost forty choruses - this did not fit with audience expectations at the time. After a revival in 1756, Handel wrote that this work was "too solemn for common ears".

It indeed starts off in a very solemn mode, with a slow, dense introductory movement, marked Largo assai, that sets the tone for the work. But the lack of solo arias is in no way a defect. While Handelís contemporaries may have disapproved of the work, I think modern listeners, who appreciate Handelís choral writing, will enjoy it very much. While it is rather austere in its melodies - sounding more like a mass than an oratorio - it shows some of Handelís finest choral writing. The choir here is more of a character, since it is providing almost all of the narrative. And the Sixteen Choir is well-suited for this music - subtle, intense, austere or bright as needed, this excellent choir gives the music its full range of tones and colours.

Harry Christophers has chosen to insert, as an "interlude", the Organ Concerto in F, HWV 295, between parts I and II of the work. While there is not essential reason for this, using this work as "filler" is quite attractive, and is well-played by Paul Nicholson and the Sixteen Orchestra. This work features the organ as soloist with a "small" sound - the organ is not loud and intense, but rather sinuous and enigmatic. The final movement, marked Adagio (ad libitum) is played by the organ alone, and sounds like a brief organ improvisation.

With the reserve that those listeners who shy away from choral works may not enjoy this oratorio, this is certainly a unique work. The excellent Sixteen choir gives a brilliant performance, and this is an enjoyable recording.

Kirk McElhearn

 


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