COMPOSERS: George Frideric Handel (arr. Mendelssohn)
ALBUM TITLE: Handel (arr. Mendelssohn)
WORKS: Israel in Ägypten
PERFORMER: Lydia Teuscher, Julia Doyle (soprano), Hilary Summers (alto), Benjamin Hulett (tenor), Roderick Williams (bass); Choir of the King’s Consort; The King’s Consort/Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: Vivat 111
Mendelssohn is widely remembered for engendering interest in Bach’s music with his performance of the St Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829, less so for his enthusiasm for Handel. But he revived several major works, adapting them to the tastes of his day. Israel in Egypt he returned to repeatedly from his first performance in Düsseldorf in 1833, and it is that edition, reconstructed by the recording’s conductor, that Robert King performs here.
It is, of course, sung in German. There are quite a few cuts – four choruses go, plus the famous duet ‘The Lord is a Man of War’ – and some reallocation of arias to a different voice from that intended by Handel.
There are also additions. The duet ‘Der Himmel ist dein’ comes from a Chandos Anthem. The substantial overture was an existing piece by Mendelssohn, usually known as the Trumpet Overture. Mendelssohn adds new wind parts to flesh out the texture (there was no organ available, apparently, in the Düsseldorf venue), though anyone disposed to jump on Mendelssohn for such practices might reflect on how much of Handel’s original oratorio was ‘adapted’ from other composers.
At any rate the performance makes a strong case for the piece, even if Mendelssohn’s version is unlikely to make a full-scale comeback. The choir is lively, making every word clear, though some of King’s conducting feels on the staid side. All the soloists make their mark, particularly Benjamin Hulett’s clean tenor, Hilary Summers’s even alto and Lydia Teuscher’s touching first soprano.