Handel: The People Shall Hear!

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WORKS: The People Shall Hear! Zadok the Priest; plus choruses and arias from Israel in Egypt, Alexander’s Feast, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, Samson, Belshazzar etc
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor); The Bach Choir; The English Concert/David Hill


If solo singers can collate random arias to create song recitals, we presumably can’t deny the same indulgence to a chorus, particularly one of the stature of the Bach Choir.

There’s a price to pay though, with oratorio choruses ripped from their dramatic contexts and sung by ten times Handel’s normal forces while accompanied by a Baroque-sized orchestra. The scale can be exhilarating – in Zadok the Priest for instance, where Handel too had a large choir for George II’s coronation.

The finely focused Bach Choir often sounds uncannily of almost chamber proportions, in ‘The many rend the skies’ (Alexander’s Feast), and the wondering description of Christ’s miracle in Handel’s self-confessed favourite chorus, ‘He saw the lovely youth’, from Theodora. The more theatrical choruses are less successful.


The succession of choruses is leavened by Carolyn Sampson, and Robin Blaze as Joad joining the Jew’s harvest festivities in ‘The mighty pow’r’ (Athalia). Tensions between ‘period’ orchestra and large-scale chorus are eased by their technical versatility, presented by the SACD recordings in a wide if shallow sound-stage. George Pratt