Israel in Egypt
~ HWV 54 ~
NDR3 KlassikClub A 157 321
Recorded in 2001.
Released in 2002 or 2003.
Vasiljka Jezovsek, Dorothee Mields, sopranos
Annette Markert, mezzo-soprano
James Gilchrist, tenor
Christian Immler, D'Ary Bleiker, basses
Dresdner Barockorchester (on period instruments)
Conductor: Hans-Christoph Rademann
Those familiar with Hans-Christoph Rademann and his Dresden Baroque Orchestra’s excellent recordings of Heinichen masses on the Carus label will not be surprised that their new recording of Israel in Egypt is pretty good. It certainly should not to be thoughtlessly dismissed by anglophile Handelians judging a book by its cover. Rademann directs a performance that is most notable for its fine interpretation of the orchestral support, but the NDR Choir are hardly slouches either: they combine to produce a very satisfactory blend in which all the detail is heard. The musical richness and melodrama of Handel’s score is served well, and the correctness of the English pronunciation is never in doubt.
James Gilchrist’s handling of the tenor solos consolidates his fast-growing reputation as the best baroque tenor to have emerged in the last few years. Unlike some of his peers, Gilchrist has a pleasant light high voice that I would describe as a genuine tenor, and he never forces the music in directions it does not naturally want to go. The other soloists are good without being exceptional. Annette Markert is blest with a particularly superb accompaniment in an agile “The land brought forth frogs” and a heartfelt “Thou shalt bring them in”, but her voice does not quite float above them adequately. The sopranos are both respectable (although Miriam the Prophetess – sung by Vasiljka Jezovsek - really ought to make more of her two short moments, and her refusal to trill rather lets the overall stylishness of the performance down). The bass duet “The Lord is a man of war” is full of bluster without pomposity, and certainly aided by Rademann’s alert management of his excellent orchestra.
Rademann has elected to record the complete 1739 version, including the Part 1 that Handel adapted from his Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline. This is therefore the fourth recording of the oratorio to feature Handel’s complete first version. Although Parrott’s polished recording remains the best due to the sheer quality of The Taverner Choir (Virgin), and the similar recordings by Christophers (Collins, reissued on Regis) and Cleobury (Decca) both possess many good things, Rademann’s German team hold their own in such respectable company with a dynamic and solid performance.
A few of Rademann’s tempos are steadier than I expected, but this is not a bad thing: there is much more one can do with Handel’s music than just rushing it. Rademann’s thrilling concept of choruses such as “He gave them hailstones for rain”, “He smote all the firstborn of Egypt” and “The people shall hear” is persuasive and gives a refreshing amount of attention to detail. The sound quality of this live recording does is superb, but the performance is not flawless: once or twice the continuo wants to rush ahead and has to wait for the orchestra to catch up, and the thick and powerful choral sound is undeniably Germanic and slightly heavy compared to the clarity of English groups such as The Monteverdi Choir. Yet Rademann’s interpretation of Israel in Egypt is as good in principle as any that I have yet heard, and is well worth hearing.
© David Vickers - May 2003
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