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Israel in Egypt [Import]

Handel , Argenta , Parrott , Taverner Consort Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: CDN$ 34.95
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not in my words, but in those of an expert. May 13 2004
This is a review taken from a prestigious spanish magazine devoted to Classical Music called "AMADEUS" (great name). Indeed, it is a great issue, and you'll enjoy reading it if you're able to read spanish; the magazine always brings a CD, with great performances of great works; example: Mahler, Synf.6 with Haitink and Orchestre National de Paris, or Magnificat with Rilling... anyway, i don't mean to promote it here. Here is the review:
1) In English: Re-issue, this time at half prized series, of one of the greatest readings of this purely choral oratorio of Händel. Parrot, simply terrifies and tears you down; he make us live with him the drama of the jews in land of the Pharaoh by the hand of a marvelous Tarverner Choir. A Reference, with any doubt at all. Performance 5 of 5; Purity of Sound: 5 of 5
2) In Spanish: Reedición, esta vez en serie medie, de una de las grandes lecturas de este oratorio eminentemente coral de Händel. Parrot sencillamente arrasa y avasalla, nos hace vivir con él el drama de los judios en tierra de los faraones de la mano de un fabuloso Coro Taverner. Referencial, sin ninguna duda. Interpretación 5 de 5; Sonido 5 de 5.
In my words: a great perfomarce, authentic, truthful and with soul above it all. A disc that anyone who enjoys baroque music must have, even if he doesn't like Händel at all.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TRIPTYCH April 20 2008
By DAVID BRYSON - Published on Amazon.com
This is the third performance of Israel in Egypt in my collection; and it may be that three is the magic number where this work is concerned, because it is only with this recording that I have finally made sense of the piece. Along with a performance that I once attended in London, the other two recordings treat Israel in Egypt as a two-part work. So, if I recall, does Percy Young in his Master Musicians book on Handel; and so, very significantly, does Tovey. Writing during the depth of the reaction against Handel, Tovey finds Israel in Egypt to be a patchy and incoherent oratorio, a thing of peaks and troughs making an unconvincing and abrupt start with no overture. Dismissing as absurd Handel's own proposal to preface it with the great and lengthy Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, Tovey used the Dead March from Saul and went on his way, if not exactly rejoicing, then at least satisfied.

I am in no doubt that my own opinion has been overly influenced by Tovey down the years, but I also note Shaw's grumpy remark that at least Handel had been able to bring some musicality to a project that was basically unmusical. Shaw was much less susceptible to orthodoxy than Tovey was, but when two critics of such contrasted eminence come to such similar conclusions I have to think that there really is some kind of, I do not say problem, but at least issue here. The issue I now believe to be that Handel knew what he was doing, and that Israel in Egypt is incomprehensible without its intended first element, an adapted version of the Funeral Anthem. The point is made admirably in the short but sensible liner-note with this set - Italian opera was a busted flush, and Handel was experimenting with different ideas in the field of oratorio, producing in Israel in Egypt an idea of the utmost audacity, namely a work that would exploit to the utmost his genius as a composer for chorus, and exploit it in three highly contrasted sections.

Whether this makes Israel in Egypt a totally coherent work I am still uncertain, but it makes it a comprehensible one, and it also helps one dismiss as they deserve some of Tovey's more offhand and foolish opinions (mixed in of course with flashes of brilliant insight) regarding parts of the work, opinions that he got away with because of his basic perception that the libretto as he understood it was an unsuccessful version of a `normal' oratorio libretto. Successful or not, this is an extraordinary venture. Anything a chorus can be made to do, it is made to do here. Handel's choral writing has always seemed to me to be a thing apart, and I'm glad to find I have the support of Beecham for this view. Moreover Haydn on his last visit to London, and at the peak of his own great powers, lamented that Handel made him feel an amateur. I think I can understand that - after listening to Handel's treatment of the chorus I find anyone else's - not just Haydn's, anyone's - hopelessly lacking in resourcefulness. Is there in the whole of music anything remotely like `And with the blast'? The celestial `But as for His people' is not remotely like it, unless in the sense that it is equally unlike anything else I know. These and the famous Plague Choruses are among the high spots, but there is more to this composition than high spots. The liner-note makes, but slightly fumbles, a very interesting point that some of the choral work functions like recitative. Indeed it does, but I don't buy the example that the writer chooses, the awesome Chorus of Darkness (superbly done here). The recitative-like choruses are short connecting items as you would expect, such as `He is my God'. This is actually one of the once-notorious `borrowings', about which such a silly fuss used to be made. If I recall, one Erba is the source of this, but it would be surprising if 100 composers had not written something nearly identical. The choral writing is a bit indistinct, but it makes a big grand noise, and for the 40 seconds that it lasts that was all Handel was after. Even here, as Tovey says, Handel needs to add two final bars of his own, just as grand in sound but making an embarrassing contrast in their clarity.

Of the borrowings that are not just tags that anyone might have written the most interesting to me is `Egypt was glad', apparently a canzona by Kerll and certainly not sounding like Handel. As Tovey says, it fits the mood of glum relief to perfection, and I wonder what Kerll used it to express. The solution to the Israel in Egypt Problem creates a bit of a problem of its own, I suppose, namely that the great Funeral Anthem is very sombre indeed, and mainly very slow. In the self-assertive early days of the `authentic' school there was a fashion for setting speed records (remember Hogwood's Messiah?) and Parrott is having none of that. This suits me, and in particular when we scale the very Everest of sublimity with `The people shall hear' I blessed him for his steady speed that lets that incredible piece of music `speak' as it ought.

If the chorus had not been up to it all this might have been blown with the wind, in the words of a particularly gorgeous aria here. The chorus are fully up to it, and so are the soloists, and the recording does them justice. If you like Handelian swashbuckle, there is a superb account by the two basses of `The Lord is a man of war', unaccountably rubbished by Tovey, and plenty more strikes the ear directly, something Handel perceived as an English demand. A great deal else takes getting to know in the mysterious depths of this great and strange composition. Let's get to know it.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opulent restoration of Handel's choral masterpiece Nov. 23 2004
By Leslie Richford - Published on Amazon.com
Occasionally I have heard the ridiculous charge levelled against Andrew Parrott (and Joshua Rifkin, to name but one other leading early music conductor) that he performs Bach with one singer to a part 'in order to save money'. But if there were even a grain of truth in this, it would be safe to assume that he would perform Handel equally thriftily. Yet Andrew Parrott brought together a total of almost 80 (in words: eighty) performers in London's Abbey Road studios in 1989 for this opulent recording of Handel's choral oratorio 'Israel in Egypt' (1738/39). The reason for this is obvious: with Handel as with Bach, Parrott is being guided by the historical evidence. Bach in Leipzig had only very limited forces available to him; Handel in London was able to draw on a large supply of singers and musicians. The Taverner Choir on this recording consists of 12 female sopranos, four each of male and female altos, six tenors and six basses (plus five additional soloists; bass Jeremy White sings both as a soloist and in the choir). And the distribution of the Taverner Players is 7 first violins, 6 second violins, 5 violas, 3 violoncellos, 2 double basses, 2 transverse flutes, 4 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 natural trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, harpsichord and 2 organs. The result is an opulent sound that has nothing to do with any form of 'minimalism' and underscores the fact that Andrew Parrott is one of today's leading baroque interpreters. This is further evidenced by the care which has gone into this recording, which includes 'Part One', the revised version of the 'Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline' which presumably was Handel's original inspiration for the whole oratorio.

During Handel's lifetime, 'Israel in Egypt' was generally not very popular, although it did gain a small band of vociferous followers. Donald Burrows speculates on the reasons for this in his accompanying notes and reaches the conclusion that it is not only the dominance of the choir which makes 'Israel in Egypt' so different from Handel's other oratorios, but also the grave tone of the Funeral Anthem at the beginning which probably put a lot of hearers off. That is presumably the reason why this oratorio is today often performed in truncated form (before purchasing the Parrott recording I only had Sir Charles Mackerras' modern-instrument recording for Deutsche Grammophon with its enormous choir and unhistorical instrumentation). My own feeling is that the entire oratorio is not a one hundred percent success as a work of art, the original Funeral Anthem being too different from the rest and despite the changes Handel made too much of a single entity to be used as an 'opener' for an oratorio of these dimensions. But here opinions will no doubt differ.

Whatever one may say about all that, Andrew Parrott has certainly produced a recording that is top-notch. His soloists are all early music specialists (although tenor Anthony Rolfe-Johnson has, of course, made a name for himself in other areas too) and all sound quite wonderful, although I at first found Timothy Wilson's female-sounding falsetto somewhat disconcerting (it sounds a little weak in Part One, but his later solo passages are very well done indeed, perhaps re-inforced by the placing of the microphones). The Taverner Choir and Taverner Players are a superb and reliable team, and the recording quality leaves nothing to be desired. (As with so many pieces of this scale, you need very good hifi equipment really to hear all the detail.) I reckon that because of the checkered compositional history of this work there can be no such thing as a perfect performance or recording of it, but Andrew Parrott has made an extremely praiseworthy contribution to its restoration to public favour.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not in my words, but in those of an expert. May 13 2004
By Peter von Karajan - Published on Amazon.com
This is a review taken from a prestigious spanish magazine devoted to Classical Music called "AMADEUS" (great name). Indeed, it is a great issue, and you'll enjoy reading it if you're able to read spanish; the magazine always brings a CD, with great performances of great works; example: Mahler, Synf.6 with Haitink and Orchestre National de Paris, or Magnificat with Rilling... anyway, i don't mean to promote it here. Here is the review:
1) In English: Re-issue, this time at half prized series, of one of the greatest readings of this purely choral oratorio of Händel. Parrot, simply terrifies and tears you down; he make us live with him the drama of the jews in land of the Pharaoh by the hand of a marvelous Tarverner Choir. A Reference, with any doubt at all. Performance 5 of 5; Purity of Sound: 5 of 5
2) In Spanish: Reedición, esta vez en serie medie, de una de las grandes lecturas de este oratorio eminentemente coral de Händel. Parrot sencillamente arrasa y avasalla, nos hace vivir con él el drama de los judios en tierra de los faraones de la mano de un fabuloso Coro Taverner. Referencial, sin ninguna duda. Interpretación 5 de 5; Sonido 5 de 5.
In my words: a great perfomarce, authentic, truthful and with soul above it all. A disc that anyone who enjoys baroque music must have, even if he doesn't like Händel at all.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent April 27 2003
By Nefari - Published on Amazon.com
A flawless recording. Extremely low noise, no artifacts. Exquisite performance by the Taverner choir and players.
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