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Handel: Israel In Egypt / Mallon, Albino, Brown, Modolo

Release Date: 05/27/2008 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570966   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Nils BrownPeter MahonSean WatsonJennifer Enns Modolo,   ... 
Conductor:  Kevin Mallon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aradia Ensemble
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Israel in Egypt Kevin Mallon, cond; Laura Albino (sop); Eve Rachel McLeod (sop); Jennie Such (sop); Jennifer Enns Modolo (mez); Peter Mahon (ct); Nils Brown (ten); Bud Roach (ten); Jason Nedecky (bar); Sean Watson (bar); Aradia Ens (period instruments) NAXOS 8.570966 (2 CDs: 119:19)

Israel in Egypt presents the unique case of a Handel oratorio that was composed in reverse order. There have been two schools of thought on the reason for this back-to-front Read more timetable. One group thinks Handel started out to compose an ode called Moses’s Song that he could use to fill out the program of shorter works such as Alexander’s Feast , but then conceived the idea of creating a full three-part oratorio, for which someone put together verses from Exodus and the Psalms for part II. Handel used his recent funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, The Ways of Zion Do Mourn , as part I. The other school makes the funeral anthem the starting point for the oratorio. Those who advocate this theory believe that Handel started working on part III because the verses for part II were not yet ready when he began composition.

Israel in Egypt was not a success with the London public. Paradoxically, in modern times Israel in Egypt has been one of the more popular of Handel’s oratorios. Until recently, it was performed in a truncated form. Part I was dropped, and only parts II and III, preceded by an overture borrowed from one of the other oratorios, were performed. Fortunately, the early-music revival has remedied this situation, and most recordings in the past 20 years have been of the complete work.

The main reason part I was usually dropped in the past is that, despite the beauty of the music, 45 minutes of predominately slow choruses, in a work which is already extremely chorus-heavy, can tend to become tiresome. Mallon’s solution to this problem is to speed the tempos up slightly so that part I becomes more a celebration of Joseph than a lament over his death. This approach works very well. Nothing is taken at so quick a tempo as to seem particularly inappropriate, and the same can be said of Mallon’s conducting of the entire work, although he pushes things a bit in a couple of places, particularly “I will sing unto the Lord” and “The people shall fear” in part III.

Mallon divides the solo music among nine singers, four of whom are members of the chorus. This seems a strange decision considering the small amount of solo music in the work, but all nine singers are quite excellent. They easily equal the best of their competitors in other recordings of this work. The Aradia Ensemble is apparently the collective name of both the orchestra and chorus. The mixed chorus of 28 voices is large enough to do justice to the more-assertive choruses while not overwhelming those that call for a less-powerful delivery. The 27-member orchestra is excellent.

Mallon is credited with the performing edition used in this recording. It contains small changes from what we are used to hearing, about which the CD booklet is silent. The changes themselves are not of any consequence, more annoying than anything else.

The recording was made in St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto. The engineers have done an excellent job of assuring that vocal lines are not obscured by reverberation. The sound is generally excellent, although occasionally there are imbalances in the recording in which one instrument will leap into sudden prominence for a short time. As is usual practice with Naxos, the libretto is available for download at its Web site.

My copy of this recording had a defect in track 2 of disc 1. Communication with Naxos led to the discovery that there was a defective batch of discs. I had not received a replacement disc by the deadline for this issue, and Naxos did not say if it is instituting a recall of the defective discs. Buyers should be aware that they may have to exchange the recording.

There are 11 competing versions of Israel in Egypt currently available. Of recordings of the entire work on period instruments, most critics seem to agreed that Parrott on EMI is the best, and it is indeed a good one. I would place this recording from Naxos on at least a level with Parrott, and perhaps give it preference because of its less funereal part I and more forceful presentation of parts II and III.

FANFARE: Ron Salemi

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Works on This Recording

Israel in Egypt, HWV 54 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Nils Brown (Tenor), Peter Mahon (Countertenor), Sean Watson (Baritone),
Jennifer Enns Modolo (Mezzo Soprano), Eve Rachel McLeod (Soprano), Jennie Such (Soprano),
Laura Albino (Soprano), Bud Roach (Tenor), Jason Nedecky (Baritone)
Conductor:  Kevin Mallon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aradia Ensemble
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1739; London, England 
Length: 119 Minutes 19 Secs. 

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