WORKS: Israel in Egypt; Zadok the Priest; The King shall rejoice
PERFORMER: Ruth Holton, Elisabeth Priday, Donna Deam (soprano), Ashley Stafford, Michael Chance, Patrick Collin, Jonathan Peter Kenny (alto), Nicholas Robertson, Philip Salmon, Paul Tindall, Andrew Tusa (tenor), Julian Clarkson, Christopher Purves (bass); Monteverdi
CATALOGUE NO: 432 110-2 DDD
Israel in Egypt was Handel’s second great oratorio, following hard on the heels of Saul. With its lack of individual characterisation, it is hardly a typical work; but its preponderance of choruses has ensured its lasting popularity – just as it disappointed Handel’s London audience, hungry for solo vocal display. As it comes down to us in Handel’s autograph, the work is in two parts, the first of them beginning baldly with a recitative. It is clear, however, that Handel always planned an oratorio in the standard three parts, and for the first performances he adapted his Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline as Part 1, passing it off as ‘The Lamentation of the Israelites for the Death of Joseph’. As on his previous recording (still available from Erato), John Eliot Gardiner excludes this makeshift first part, though he does begin with a short overture taken from it.
With its double choruses and opulent orchestration, including three trombones (whose rasping sound vividly conjures up the smiting of the first-born of Egypt), Israel in Egypt is a work of massive effects. Gardiner brings out its full grandeur, but also finds room for much expressive shading; and the orchestral playing and choral contribution are all one could wish for. Altogether, a worthy addition to Gardiner’s fine series of Handel oratorio recordings for Philips. Misha Donat