, August 2010
Stand-out soloists make this recording of Handel’s epic oratorio worth hearing
The complete 1739 first-performance version of Israel in Egypt, with the funeral anthem for Queen Caroline (1737) adapted into Part I, was not revived until 1985, so it is astonishing that this three-part version of Handel’s choral epic now receives its eight commercial recording.
The performance is pretty good, much like several other Germanic recordings, of the 1739 version. Few collectors buy a recording of Israel in Egypt based on the quality of the sporadic solo numbers but Peter Dijkstra’s six soloists are consistently good (especially Kobie van Rensburg’s theatrical “The enemy said”). Concerto Köln play with muscularity…the Bavarian Radio Chorus does not seem to be very large, although it makes a grand old-fashioned choral society noise (eg the quiet passages of “Their bodies are buried in peace”). Its English pronunciation is flawless. Several movements in Part I adhere to the inauthentic post-Handel tradition of allocating the choral parts to a quartet of soloists (only Harry Christophers and The Sixteen get this correct on disc), but the tragic tone of the anthem’s final string coda is perfectly judged. Part 2 contains the most convincing highlights: Dijkstra produces the cumulative tension at the peak of “They loathed to drink of the river” effectively (alas, the choir doesn’t exploit the dramatic thrust of the words until the movement climaxes); the archaic personality of “He spake the word” is realised boldly, and the blood and thunder (and unleashed trombones) of “He gave them hailstones” are illustrated with fieriness. Part 3 is performed confidently…Dijkstra achieves another worthy entry into a competitive discography…