WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Handel: Israel In Egypt / Parrott, Taverner Consort

Release Date: 01/13/2008 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 62155   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emily van EveraDavid ThomasAnthony Rolfe JohnsonNancy Argenta,   ... 
Conductor:  Andrew Parrott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Taverner Players OrchestraTaverner Consort Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
This title is currently unavailable.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Israel in Egypt Andrew Parrott,cond; Nancy Argenta (sop); Emily van Evera (sop); Timothy Wilson (alt); Anthony Rolfe Johnson (ten); David Thomas (bs); Jeremy White (bs); Taverner Ch & Players (period instruments) VIRGIN 62155 (2 CDs 135:14)

When the plans for a winter-to-spring opera season in 1739 fell through, George Frideric Handel once again set his sights on the oratorio, planning an entire season of them and other choral works. The first new work to be offered was Read more style="font-style:italic">Saul , drafted in the three weeks between July 23 and August 15.

In the first 20 days of October, Handel planned and sketched his next oratorio, based on the story of Moses and the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt; this was Israel in Egypt . Handel had finished the orchestration by November 1, and the London audience heard Israel in Egypt for the first time on April 4, 1739. The performers included soprano Elisabeth du Parc (known as “La Francesina”), countertenor William Savage, tenor John Beard, and basses Gustav Waltz and Thomas Reinhold. The performance was advertised as featuring a new organ concerto, generally believed to be No. 13 in F Major, the one now known as “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale.” The audience and critical reception for Israel in Egypt was mixed; there were those who appreciated the use of Biblical text coupled with Handel’s always-fertile musical imagination, but others found the quantity and duration of the choruses hard to take. Doubtless they missed the fireworks of the opera.

Following the mixed reception, Handel decided to revise Israel in Egypt , the principal change being the omission of the original part I, which—­with some minor changes in the text­—was the same music used earlier in his funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, The Ways of Zion Do Mourn . This change omitted almost three-quarters of an hour of music, much of it choral, and much of it quite slow. This left a two-part work and for many, many years, it was in this form that the oratorio was offered. It was this version with which I became acquainted in the 1960s via an old Decca Gold Label LP set with Frederick Waldman and his Musica Æterna Orchestra and Chorus. The restoration of the original part I is a fairly recent undertaking, that is to say, within the last few decades, and it is the original version that Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Choir and Players recorded for EMI in the last decade of the last century.

Israel in Egypt is not Handel’s most popular oratorio (that honor, of course, falls to Messiah ), but it has always been on the short list of choral societies because it is a chorus-laden work with rewarding, powerful, and moving music. In its original form, the overall architecture has the Exodus framed by two expansive anthems: the first mournful and the second joyful. What is most striking to me about this work is Handel’s conscious and effective use of the orchestra to portray the various plagues called down upon the Egyptians by Moses. In these, Handel employs the so-called doctrine of musical affections, or Affektenlehre . The listener cannot miss the leaping violin figurations in the aria “Their land brought forth frogs.” In the ensuing choruses, Handel calls into service a variety of techniques, including “buzzing” violins to conjure images of the flies and equally active and angry cellos and basses to portray locusts. There are staccato chords that mimic the striking down of the first-born Egyptian children, and eerie and unsettled harmonies depict the plague of darkness. Here, the use of low strings and bassoons ushers in the chorus, which soon leaves the impression that the parts are wandering away from each other as if they are becoming lost.

Another aspect of Israel in Egypt that must be briefly touched on is Handel’s borrowing of music by other composers. He imported—either literally or after reworking the music­— material from Alessandro Stradella’s Qual prodigio è ch’io miri , a setting of the Magnificat by Dionigi Erba, and a setting of the Te Deum by one Francesco Urio. Handel also recycled music of his own, a practice that became quite regular during the 1730s.

Ron Salemi’s review of Naxos’s recent release of Israel in Egypt (see Fanfare 32:2) was the impetus for me to revisit the Parrott recording, which was reissued on Virgin Veritas in 2003. Though I have not heard the Naxos release, I must include my name among those referenced in Mr. Salemi’s statement that “most critics seem to agree that Parrott on EMI is the best.”

Using some of the finest early-music soloists of the day, Parrott and his forces give posterity a recording that welds tightly focused emotion to a laudable and uncommon feel for the music. The soloists produce appropriately light but well-focused tone and display an ability to negotiate the intricacies of Handel’s notes evenly and with an exceptional grasp of the phrasing required for successful performance. The choral lines are carefully etched and meticulously balanced, resulting in a superlative overall sound that—in spite of the small choir—is rich and capable of exceeding power when required.

Without groveling to historical convention, Parrott achieves an enviable­­—and perhaps even the ultimate—marriage of musicology and musicality. The choruses and arias in parts II and III are conservatively paced, never rushed or driven, but I never feel that the tempos are sluggish or flaccid to the detriment of the music. Overall, there is deft execution, impeccable ensemble, and precise intonation. Parrott’s recording of Israel in Egypt is built on cognizance of Handel’s musical architecture and a desire to seek and master what lies beyond the printed page. All of this adds up to another inductee into our Classical Hall of Fame.

Please note that this set is available as an import only and can be found online as either a new or pre-loved product on amazon.com. Unfortunately, there are no texts included in the bare-bones booklet, but they can be downloaded at www.virginclassics.com.

FANFARE: Michael Carter
Read less

Works on This Recording

Israel in Egypt, HWV 54 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emily van Evera (Soprano), David Thomas (Bass), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor),
Nancy Argenta (Soprano), Jeremy White (Bass), Timothy Wilson (Alto)
Conductor:  Andrew Parrott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Taverner Players Orchestra,  Taverner Consort Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1739; London, England 
Date of Recording: 1985 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title