Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


GEORG FRIEDRICH HAENDEL (1685-1759)
Israel in Egypt (1738)
Zadok the Priest (1727)
The King Shall Rejoice (1727)
Sopranos: Ruth Holton, Elizabeth Friday, Donna Deam
Alto: Ashley Stafford, Michael Chance, Patrick Collin, Jonathan Peter Kenny
Tenor: Nicholas Robinson, Philip Salmon, Paul Tindall, Andrew Tusa
Bass: Julian Clarkson, Christopher Purves
The Monteverdi Choir
The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
Rec: June 1990, Gottingen, Germany, and Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (Israel); June 1993, Notre Dame du Liban, Paris (Anthems).
PHILLIPS 473 304-2 PM2 [103.17]


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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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".

These recordings, made live in 1990 and 1993, show conductor John Eliot Gardiner at his peak. His brilliant control of the Monteverdi Choir makes every choral movement a joy. This work features a small number of solo arias; most of the movements are choral. Unfortunately, the first of these arias, Their land brought forth frogs, sung by Ashley Stafford, is not up to the standards of the rest of the work. Stafford's voice wavers and his tone is vague and uncertain. But this is brief, and the rest of the first part of this work is choir, and nothing but. From the forceful He spake the word to the ethereal opening of Egypt was glad when they departed, this first part is like a compendium of choral "best practices". Gardiner coaxes every nuance from his singers, yet does not neglect the orchestra, offering a perfectly balanced performance. The sound is rich and full, with dense bass notes supporting the choir in the loudest sections, and the lightest orchestral touches in the quieter parts.

The second part of the work contains more solo arias and duets. Almost every other movement is an aria, interspersed with choral movements. This gives the second part a very different tone than the first. Sopranos Ruth Holton and Elizabeth Priday give a moving rendition of The Lord is my strength, but Holton's boyish voice lacks in richness and strength. Alto Michael Chance is excellent in Thou shalt bring them in. His limpid voice fits perfectly with the graceful orchestral accompaniment.

One thing that strikes a bit strange on this recording is the use of several singers (such as three sopranos, two who sing a duet and one who sings alone; four altos, again, spread out). This is probably the result of this being a compilation of the best movements from a series of live performances, where different soloists were used. This detracts slightly from the overall unity, but the strength of the choir makes it all worthwhile.

This fine recording of one of Handel's most chorally-intensive works contains such excellent choral singing that it should be a benchmark for this type of music. While some listeners may find that there is too much choral music for their taste, others will delight in Gardiner's masterful direction and conducting. In spite of the fact that this music was recorded live, the sound is excellent.

Kirk McElhearn



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