George Frideric Handel’s (1685-1759) Israel in Egypt (Israel in Ägypten) was premiered at London's King's Theatre in the Haymarket, London on April 4, 1739. Handel had started work on it soon after the opera season at King's Theatre was cancelled for lack of subscribers. The oratorio, on biblical texts selected from the Old Testament, was not well received by the first audience.
This resulted in a shortened second performance where Handel augmented this mainly choral work with Italian- style arias. This attempt was not a success and after two additional performances, Handel did not perform the oratorio again until 1756 when Part 1 was replaced by an abridged version of Act I of Solomon. Eventually, Part I was dropped entirely and the work was performed as a two-part oratorio.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 -1847) was involved in performances of Handel's Israel in Egypt throughout his career, first conducting it in May 1833. Later that year he visited London where he was able to inspect performance materials and a libretto from Handel's lifetime and the period shortly afterwards. He used some of this research in his performing edition of the oratorio. He returned to the work in 1842 and 1844 and prepared an edition for publication in 1845.
Mendelssohn’s choices when preparing his edition were restricted by the absence of an organ at the intended venue. In the absence of an organ or, indeed, a harpsichord, he added discrete clarinet parts with instructions that they be omitted where an organ was available. Because Handel's orchestral forces were large using trombones, trumpets, oboes, bassoons and timpani along with strings, Mendelssohn did not find it necessary to augment the score in the manner of Mozart's additions to several of Handel works. The major differences are the cuts and additions to the score. Mendelssohn added a series of recitatives and made changes to the order of various sections.
For its new recording for Vivat www.vivatmusic.com, The King’s Consort www.tkcworld.org perform a reconstruction by their director Robert King www.robertking.eu of Mendelssohn’s 1833 Düsseldorf performance of Israel in Ägypten using fragments and sources across Europe. The large orchestra plays on 19th century instruments pitched at A=430. It is sung in German.
The King’s Consort are joined by the Choir of the King’s Consort with soloists, sopranos Lydia Teuscher www.askonasholt.co.uk/artists/singers/soprano/lydia-teuscher and Julia Doyle http://juliadoylesoprano.com , alto Hilary Summers www.hilarysummers.com , tenor Benjamin Hulett www.benjaminhulett.com and bass Roderick Williams www.ingpen.co.uk/artist/roderick-williams
The King’s Consort brings a thoroughly Mendelssohnian Overture to Erster Teil – Exodus, an addition made by Mendelssohn at the request of the festival organisers. They bring a thrilling, vibrant forward propulsion and some wonderful instrumental textures and timbres as well as some spectacularly fine transparency with some wonderful swirls of woodwind. This is Mendelssohn as he should be played.
When tenor, Benjamin Hulett enters with the Recitative Nun kame in neuer König it also has a curiously Mendelssohnian feel before the Choir of the King’s Consort bring the beautifully lilting Chorus Aber die Kinder Israels schrien, this choir providing a lovely Handelian flow and texture. Benjamin Hulett again proves a very fine tenor in the next brief Recitative Da sandt’ er Moses with some terrific orchestral contrasts. Bass, Roderick Williams is equally impressive in the Recitative Aber die Zaub’rer auch and the Aria Und Frösche ohne Zahl which has a beautifully sprung Handelian style with unexpected instrumental textures.
There are interesting sonorities from the orchestra as Benjamin Hulett sings the Recitative Die Plage wich before the choir return with the Chorus Er sprach das Wort that brings a Mendelssohnian lightness of texture, the King’s Consort whipping up some terrific fast string passages with a vibrant chorus. Benjamin Hulett continues with two more brief Recitatives, Dies neue Wunder where he shapes the music to perfection and Doch Pharao trotzt where the orchestra brings unusual orchestral harmonies created in the lower orchestra.
The Choir of the King’s Consort takes us into another vibrant, fast moving Chorus Hagef staff Regenleads, the choir and The King’s Consort delivering some terrific ensemble and thrillingly dynamic moments. Soprano Lydia Touscher proves to be rather wonderful in the Recitative Pharao sah’s an, bringing a lovely musical tone with some fine Handelian sonorities from the Consort. Benjamin Hulett returns for the Recitative Moses verließ die Stadt before Roderick Williams takes the Recitative Als Pharao alles friedlich ruhen sah bringing some fine feeling before a magical opening to the Chorus Er sandte dicke Finsternis where the Consort gently ease the music forward, with orchestral sonorities slowly blossoming. The choir enter in an equally magical fashion with some wonderful textures added by Mendelssohn.
Benjamin Hulett subtly adds a drama and passion to the Recitative Doch als nun Pharao before orchestra and choir bring the Chorus Er schlug alle Erstgeburt with the strings adding staccato phrases that point up the music as the chorus sails forward in some wonderful moments with a fine Handelian flow. The Chorus Aber mit seinem Volke is surely pure Handel, exquisitely sung by the fine choir with a quite beautiful orchestral accompaniment. Lydia Teuscher returns for the brief, lovely Recitative Und Israel war befreit and the Aria Hoffnung lindert unsre Scherzen with some lovely orchestral textures before this fine soprano enters. She has a lovely voice that brings varied timbres at each part of her register, moments of rich lower textures and higher sweeter moments, all beautifully done. There is a rousing opening to the Chorus Er gebot der Meerflut before the male voices lead steadily forward, picking up a fine Handelian rhythm. Part 1 is concluded here with the Chorus Aber die Fluten überwältigten delivered with singing and playing of terrific power and drama, pointed up by timpani.
The choir brings a vibrant rhythm to the Chorus Deine Rechte, o Herr with some fine orchestral moments, especially from the trumpets. There is some fine part writing, wonderfully sung by this choir with the Consort revealing some orchestral counterpoint that is often quite Mendelssohnian. Alto Hilary Summers and bass Roderick Williams join for the Duet Die Himmel sind dein. There is a beautifully turned orchestral opening before they weave some most glorious lines, both bringing some quite superb vocal textures. The choir and orchestra bring a vibrant yet softly produced Chorus Und von dem Hauch. It is the vocal and orchestral balance and control shown here that is so impressive.
There is a finely sprung orchestral opening to the Aria So dachte der Feind to which Lydia Teuscher joins bringing lovely phrasing and a fine flexibility and musicality. Soprano Julia Doyle also brings a very fine control together with a lovely pure tone to the Aria Aber du ließest wehen with the Consort providing some lovely instrumental textures. The choir bring some terrific large scale textures to open the Chorus Wer ist dir gleich, o Herr before falling and rising in some finely controlled passages, later with some very fine singing of the part writing. Incisive strings bring a rhythmic opening to the Chorus Das hören die Völker to which the choir adds some wonderfully rich sounds, again beautifully controlled.
Hilary Summers returns for the Aria Bringe sie hinein. This has a lovely Handelian orchestral opening before this fine alto brings her lovely tone, creating an almost countertenor sonority and with the orchestra finding a real flow. Choir and orchestra find a fine rhythm as the Chorus Der Herr ist König (I) opens, bringing a real feeling of joy before Benjamin Hulett sings the Recitative Denn die Reiter Pharaos. The choir rise joyfully in the Chorus Der Herr ist König (II) before Benjamin Hulett returns in the Recitative Und Mirjam die Prophetin.) Lydia Teuscher opens alone in the Chorus Singet unserem Gott, a most wonderful moment before chorus and orchestra lead on. Soprano and chorus alternate before the chorus brings a contrapuntal section to bounce joyfully ahead in a most Handelian manner with some terrific contributions from the King’s Consort’s brass and timpani as the conclusion is reached.
This performance is a real joy. With a superb line up of soloists and The King’s Consort and Choir of the King’s Consort on top form, this adds up to more than just a curiosity. It stands in its own right as a work that will bring immense pleasure.
Adrian Peacock has produced an excellent recording made in the fine acoustic of St Jude’s Church, London. There are first rate, authoritative notes from Robert King in a booklet that includes session photographs and score facsimiles as well as full texts in German with English translations.