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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Israel in Egypt, oratorio in 2 parts (HWV 54)
Concerto for organ and orchestra in F (HWV 295)
Nicola Jenkin, soprano; Caroline Trevor, contralto; Neil MacKenzie, tenor; Simon Birchall, Robert Evans, bass; Paul Nicholson, organ
Choir and Orchestra of The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Recorded March 1993 in St Jude’s on the Hill, Hampstead DDD
CORO COR16011 [71:39]
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Israel in Egypt is one of Handel’s most popular oratorios. That wasn’t always the case. As Harry Christophers writes in the booklet: "Israel in Egypt was a flop back in 1739: too many choruses, not enough arias for the divas, not what the public wanted at all". Originally the oratorio consisted of three parts: the first part was an adaptation of the 1737 Anthem for the Funeral of Queen Caroline. As Part one of the oratorio it was entitled ‘The Lamentation of the Israelites for the Death of Joseph’, and began with the words "The sons of Israel do mourn". This was the version originally recorded in 1993 by the Sixteen. In this new release, though, the oratorio is reduced to the version in two parts, as it was published in 1771, and which is mostly performed in our time. But even this version doesn’t fit on one CD, so the decision has been taken to strip the version of 1771 of most of the arias and some choruses. Only Part two has survived without cuts. The only reason I can think of to take this decision is a financial one. Artistically it is very unsatisfying.

As a whole this is an unbalanced and, in the end, unconvincing recording. The role of the soloists in this 'stripped’ version is very small, but their contributions belong to the most disappointing. The tenor Neil MacKenzie sings the recitatives without any real declamation: rhythmically they are too strict.

Sample 1 Track 3 00:00

Caroline Trevor doesn’t make too much of her only aria, "The land brought forth frogs". The two basses in the duet "The Lord is a man of war" are quite contrasting, but Simon Birchall’s voice is too light here. The role of the soprano Nicola Jenkin is limited to the short solo in the final chorus "Sing ye to the Lord", and can therefore hardly be assessed.

Choir and orchestra are all right most of the time, but the dramatic character isn’t always realised to the full.

The dramatic chorus "He spake the word" really comes to life only towards the end. In the orchestral parts the opportunities to illustrate the text are sometimes missed. In the chorus "And the children of Israel sighed" the word "sighed" is a figure known as ‘suspiratio’. Christophers ignores it.

Sample 2 Track 2 00:00

The chorus "But the waters overwhelmed" is much better, though.

Sample 3 Track 14 00:00

Handel usually performed an organ concerto between acts of his oratorios. During the first performance of Israel in Egypt he very likely performed the Organ concerto in F, now known with its nickname "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale". Therefore it has been included here, but strangely enough only two movements are played, one of them between the two parts of the oratorio, and one in the middle of the second part. That is really strange and without any historical justification, and also artistically unsatisfying. Paul Nicholson plays the solo part rather stiffly, without any ornamentation.

To sum up: the soloists are mostly disappointing, the choral parts are sometimes well performed, but in other instances too pale. And I should add that the articulation of choir and orchestra leaves something to be desired. In some choruses the words are difficult to understand as well. In all respects the recording of the three part-version by Andrew Parrott (EMI) is still first choice.

The liner notes are good, but the text of the oratorio contains several errors. And it would have been very helpful if the omitted parts were listed.

Johan van Veen

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Now there arose a new king over Egypt

And the children of Israel sighed

Then sent He Moses

They loathed to drink of the river

Their land brought forth frogs

He spake the word

He gave them hailstones for rain

He sent a thick darkness over all the land

He smote all the first-born of Egypt

But as for his people

Egypt was glad when they departed

He rebuked the Red Sea

He led them through the deep

But the waters overwhelmed their enemies

And Israel saw that great work

And believed the Lord

Organ Concerto in F HWV 295
Israel in Egypt
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Organ Concerto in F HWV 295
Israel in Egypt
Israel in Egypt
Israel in Egypt
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Israel in Egypt

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