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John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, February 2009

Israel in Egypt is unlike any of the composer’s other oratorios. It is focused almost exclusively on the chorus which is for much of the time divided to form a double chorus. There are solos, duets and quartets but they are by no means the most significant part of the work as is the case with Handel’s other oratorios. It is arranged so that all the action happens in the central part, with the longer outer parts essentially a lamentation and a triumph respectively. That at least is what happens here. The First Part—“The Lamentation of the Israelites for the death of Joseph”—was in effect a reuse by Handel of his earlier Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline. Unfortunately many modern editions do not include it as part of Israel in Egypt so that until relatively recently the work was usually performed in a truncated form consisting merely of Parts Two and Three. This did have the advantage of leaving the choir much fresher for the final choruses but resulted in a very unsatisfactory lopsided design. It is therefore a pleasure that this recording, like most of its more recent predecessors, includes the entire work.

Whatever the special pleasures given in the past by performances by the monster choirs of the Crystal Palace or even by a standard amateur choral society of half a century ago, so much more can be heard of the detail of the work with a small choir. The Aradia is in that category and listening to these discs one is constantly amazed at the varied invention that Handel provides in movement after movement. Whatever detailed shortcomings there may be here, what matters is that the performance as a whole sounds live—although it is not—and has a real feeling for the vigour of Handel’s inspiration—even where it is closely based on earlier works by others. There may be some minor faults of balance or intonation but these are very occasional and neither is of any great consequence compared with the sheer pleasure in the music that the performers manage to convey. This is hardly surprising when you consider the opportunities given to them, in particular by the astonishing chain of plague choruses in Part Two, depicted in contrasting and vivid pictures. At one time these were commonly extracted to be performed as part of mixed concerts. Listening to this performance you wonder why this is not done now. But no matter, any time you have half an hour to spare you can listen to them here and marvel yet again at Handel’s genius. I can imagine no better way to celebrate this year’s anniversary.

The soloists are all adequate, and some, in particular Jennifer Enns Modolo who sings “Their land brought forth frogs”, are much more than that. There used to be a kind of bizarre pleasure in hearing the duet “The Lord is a man of war” sung by the entire bass section—you can hear it on Dutton’s reissue of Sargent’s version with the Huddersfield Choral Society —but there is much more pleasure to be had from two very competent basses such as we have here. It has to be said that in some of the choruses the basses are somewhat weak compared to the upper voices, and this is unsurprising when it appears that there were a total of nine sopranos but only five basses. In the double choruses therefore there must have been only two singers to the bass part on one side. Under these circumstances they have to be said to have done well, but perhaps another bass on each side would have helped in the overall balance.

The recording is close but not objectionably so, and the historical notes and synopsis by William Yeoman are excellent, although once again Naxos have spoilt the package by omitting the text even if this is available on their website [It is – Ed.]. This is, however, of little importance when compared with the very strong merits of this set both as music and as performance. This is a real winner starting this anniversary year in fine style.

Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online, January 2009

Though this was something of a failure in Handel's own time…this oratorio nonetheless deserves a hearing as there is some fine music in it. A larger choir than the Aradia Ensemble would have helped beef out the choruses and create a fuller sound, but the performance is nonetheless a good one, quite exciting in choruses such as But the Waters Overwhelmed Their Enemies. The orchestral playing also is of a very high standard.

Ron Salemi
Fanfare, November 2008

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. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2008

Handel did not live long enough to enjoy the success that his oratorio Israel in Egypt was to enjoy, early audiences dismissing a work that did not offer soloists a series of brilliant arias.

It was to be the growth of large amateur choruses in the 19th century that changed its fortunes, and today it has become part of the standard choral repertoire. In composing the score, which he completed in 1739, Handel was profoundly guilty of plagiarism from the music of other composers and also borrowing extensively from his own previous works. Using the Biblical story, it is the suffering of people rather than a personal narrative, and it seems that it was this factor that early audiences also found uncomfortable. It is here performed in its original version with Handel’s Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline adapted to set the scene of suffering in the opening Sinfonia. The first part is sombre, the chorus having its chance to be more energetic in the second part with its depiction of the plagues, the orchestra depicting the frogs, flies and hailstones, while the third part is one of hope with the Israelites reaching sanctuary. It proves an ideal vehicle to show the qualities of the fine choir of Canada’s Aradia Ensemble. Well balanced, good diction and immaculate intonation, it avoids the hooty sopranos that have become common currency in the UK’s professional outfits, and which stylise everything they sing. It is also shaded by a nice dynamic range without going to excess, and their Irish conductor, Kevin Mallon, keeps the score moving forward with a suitable sense of urgency in the second part. Though they have few demands, Naxos has a very good group of North American soloists, and I was impressed by the tenor, Bud Roach, in his air, The enemy said, I will pursue, while the sopranos, Laura Albino and Eve Rachel McLeod are nicely blended in He deliver’d the poor and cried, Aradia’s instrumentalists provide a very positive contribution throughout, and the Canadian recording team have created a realistic feeling of depth to the sound stage. There are a number of recommendable alternatives in the catalogue, but at super-budget price this would be an attractive purchase.

American Record Guide, September 2008

Turning to Handel's most unique and transcendent choral work ought to be a new jolt of joy. And so it proved to be, if after a slow start. Following what has come to be regular practice now, Mallon respects Handel's original structure for this work that gave him so much trouble. That is to say, he restores the revised Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline as the oratorio's Part I. This music is a fascinating work in its own right, but it is somewhat overextended in its message and only minimally varied in its textures, difficult to bring off convincingly, As a result, Mallon's performance does not really catch fire until he plunges into Parts II and III-that is, what used to be regarded as Parts I and II.

…I particularly enjoyed the work or soprano Such, mezzo Modolo, and tenor Roach. Mallon's chorus consists of 28 mixed voices, sometimes just a little raw and unpolished in sound, but whipped up by him into genuinely inspired singing, and with unusually clear diction. The orchestra is 27 players strong and just as spirited. Mallon occasionally reduces a violin part to a single player, and he (or the engineer) gives particular (and powerful) freedom to his timpanist, while the woodwind playing is captured with particular clarity.

A really great performance of this astounding score should inspire awe, thrills, and exciteIIent; and this one does pretty consistently once it picks up speed. The solos are kept in proper-that is, minor-proportion to the magnificent choral canvases, which spread out with soaring power. The double-chorus divisions could be just a bit more clearly captured sonically, but their rolling thunder and compelling duels come across well.

…For the bargain-minded, however, this new Mallon release, one of his best yet, is a very good deal.

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