Israel in Egypt (The Plagues according to Handel) (BBC Proms, 1 August 2017)
In July 1984 Metallica released Ride the Lightning, which turned out to be an early Thrash classic. Crucially (for yours truly), it included this gem about that bit in the Old Testament that deals with the 10 Plagues:
But way (way) before that – over one month in late 1738 -, DJ Handel flipped the pages of his well thumbed Bible to the Book of Exodus and covered the same territory in his most chorus heavy oratorio, known as Israel in Egypt. I’d say both are on the same level of exciting, as is the story itself. I mean plagues on the enemy. Genius nationalistic PR there.
DJ Handel assembled Israel from a motley array of sources that did include his own work. Even so, the fickle London audience, on whose account he had stopped writing Italian language dramatic works on secular themes (= operas) and turned to English language dramatic works on Biblical themes (= oratorios), was too shocked by the sheer amount of chorus featured here, so Handel soon revised the work by removing the initial chorus only 30min lament and adding some arias instead. Chorus societies have of course never stopped loving it – and so will anyone with an appreciation for a finely spun tune on multiple voices -, though I bet the singers are hoarse by the end.
The cheerful Plague of hailstones (with fire) is catchy as hell yet the best bit is the immediately preceding Plague of flies and lice (He spake the word), where Handel has the strings positively buzzing:
Christie really went to town with the buzzing, it came off a lot more vivid with surround sound from the strings than in this otherwise very fine Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir recording from some 30-40 years ago (maybe they had similar but the technology of the time doesn’t do it justice).
Both are apparently clever rip-offs from adventure-loving Alessandro Stradella’s wedding serenata Qual prodigio é ch’io miri – also known as the Plague of marriage 😉 – from the time of Handel’s audience’s grandparents (he clearly figured they wouldn’t know these tunes anyway).
On 31st July 2017 at 8:40pm, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment finished playing Tito at Glyndebourne and on 1st August 2017 at 7:30pm they started playing Israel at Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington. Busy week, eh?
Handel Israel in Egypt (1739 version)
Zoë Brookshaw soprano
Rowan Pierce soprano
Christopher Lowrey countertenor
Jeremy Budd tenor
Dingle Yandell bass-baritone
Callum Thorpe bass
Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
William Christie conductor
I would urge you to listen to this fine oratoriccio but first you need to decide if you want to register with the BBC instead, as they now require.
I have to congratulate the 60 piece or so choir for a truly ace job. Their blending was optimal, as was their stamina and timing. A true pleasure to listen to, due in part to the clever arrangement of different voices among each other (sopranos, male altos, sopranos, tenors, bass etc.) but mostly clearly to their superior craft. The orchestra was equally big for Handel yet Christie got a very light and supple sound from them, clear and with tempi that didn’t let anyone flag. In fact I heard some people comment on the way out that “there were no dull moments”. Great interventions from the trumpets, timpanist and the winds. We’ve established already that DJ Handel knew what he was doing and we know Christie does too.
So thank you, once again, Baroque Bird, for this last minute ticket 🙂 (very good stalls seat! with excellent view of the orchestra, choir and singers; though it was on the side, I didn’t have trouble hearing the soloists. My favourites were Thorpe and Yandell in their duet). Royal Albert Hall looks even more daunting when you look up from the stalls – 7 level (ha!) all in all.
So now back to Tito. Remember, the livestream is tomorrow at 6pm GMT, up on the same page for one week 😀