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Israel in Egypt is atypical among Handel’s oratorios. It has no conventional beginning and choruses on an unprecedented scale amounting to some 20 in all, interspersed with four arias, three duets and four simple recitatives. In short, the work has decidedly innovative and experimental dimensions which are reflected to some extent in Handel’s own compositional process. The unidentified librettist based his text on biblical passages, mainly from the Old Testament book of Exodus. Israel in Egypt was first performed in London in April 1739 ’with several Concertos on the Organ ...’ played by Handel, himself. The first movement of one such concerto, ’The Cuckoo and the Nightingale‘, HWV 295 is included in this live performance directed by Roy Goodman, who unfailingly realises the grandeur and nobility of Handel’s oratorio in three parts.

The Netherlands Chamber Choir is on its customary alert form carrying through the narrative and expressive content that is largely contained in a breathtakingly varied sequence of choruses, sometimes fugal, sometimes homophonic and sometimes antiphonal. There are no individual roles, all choral and solo configurations representing the people of Israel. The text offered Handel opportunity for vivid musical depiction and he made the most of it as we can hear in choruses like the pastoral ’But as for his people‘, the great choral edifice which concludes Part 2, and the impressive solo-choral structure with which the work concludes. Strong solo contributions and fluently idiomatic orchestral playing consolidate aforementioned choral pleasures though I found the acoustic a shade too reverberant

Nicholas Anderson Read the full review on Agora Classica


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