One of Handel’s most massive oratorios, Israel in Egypt is a tour de force for the chorus – the solo numbers are very scarce and, in the contrasting three parts (the original version was adopted for this performance), a showcase of choral writing possibilities are displayed – from anthem-like parallel structures to complex fugal episodes. The challenge was taken by the RIAS-Kammerchor with relish. This ensemble excels in transparent textures and crystal-clear divisions, but their trump card is their dramatic commitment. The approach here was fortunately remote from the venerable tradition found in some old English recordings, but almost operatic in its graphic description of the predicaments of the Israelite people in its way out of bondage through the Red Sea and its special effects.
“Special effects” is an expression one could easily use to define Handel’s imaginative writing for the orchestra, with its graphic descriptions of frogs, flies, locusts, fire vortices and the torrents in the Red Sea. All that was intensely brought to life by the Concerto Köln under Hans-Christoph Rademann’s baton. The quasi-operatic approach paid its dividends in this homogeneously wie-ein-Kondukt intense performance, fortunately recorded by Deutschlandradio Kultur (to be broadcast on July 2nd). Despite the occasional (if unobtrusive) German accent, it also deserved a CD release.
The fact that there is only a few solo numbers – none of them famous as Joshua’s O had I Jubal’s lyre or Samson’s Let the bright seraphim – does not mean that the task is easy. The alto solo is featured in some key moments and both duets for basses and sopranos are not only exciting but also very difficult to sing. Ditte Andersen’s exquisite golden tone was ideally contrasted to Anna Prohaska’s more silvery sound, but it is Tim Mead (replacing Marjana Mijanovic) who deserves special mention for his eloquent account of his arias. His velvety angelic countertenor is ideal for oratorio. Tenor Andreas Karasiak has accurate divisions, but the sound is not truly ingratiating and his English needs some work. Bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer offered rich, focused and flexible singing, also beautifully contrasted to Jonathan de la Paz Zaens’s leaner and straighter sound in their duet.