Prom 6: Late-night Handel

Israel in Egypt

Katharine Fuge & Gillian Keith (sopranos)
Daniel Taylor, William Towers & Richard Wyn-Roberts (altos)
Andrew Busher & Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks (tenors)
Michael Bundy & Daniel Jordan (basses)

Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 23 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The first late-night Prom of this year’s season highlighted the biblical theme, eschewing its perhaps more popular Spanish thematic compatriot, and welcoming back to the Royal Albert Hall Sir John Eliot Gardiner with his Monteverdi Choir and his original (in two senses) band – the English Baroque Soloists (as opposed to the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique).

Having heard in Prom 2 Haydn’s The Creation, which had been inspired (in part) by a performance of Handel’s work, we moved on in biblical terms to Moses’s saving of the people of Israel after the plagues that beset the Egyptians, the Exodus through the parted Red Sea and the return to their homeland.

The sterling efforts of the Royal Albert Hall back-stage crew – in not only clearing the stage after the BBC Symphony Orchestra Prom, but also building high platforms for the choir to sit, so that all the performers were as close to Gardiner as they could get (not even extending on to the Hall’s normal risers) – allowed a start almost on time. The soloists also were part of the choir, and came forward (where necessary) to the front of their platform.

In view of the time, Gardiner only gave us the Overture of the first part (“The Lamentations of the Israelites for the Death of Joseph”), which lost about 35 minutes of the work if allowing the piece to sit nicely in its late-night context and let the audience get away at 11.45pm. The good showing (well over 2,000 people by my estimation) suggested this was a sensible omission.

In a nicely judged and spirited performance, the only serious let down were the recitatives by tenor Nicolas Robertson, who never settled into any convincing intonation (presumably the omission of his photograph in the programme was purely coincidental). On the plus side was Daniel Taylor’s two splendid contributions, the sopranos’ duet (’The Lord is my strength and my song’) and Handel’s inspired characterising of the various plagues in Part 2, Gardiner making the most of this. Given that the only other listed “complete” performance of Israel in Egypt at the Proms was in 1962, with massed choirs under Rudolf Schwarz, perhaps it won’t be too long before we can have it as a full evening Prom, including all of Part 1!

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