Hertford Choral Society performed Handel's Israel in Egypt on 31st March 2012.  A review is below, while pictures were created by members of Hertford Art Society inspired by the piece.

Why Handel’s Israel in Egypt is not performed more often is a bit of a mystery.  Too challenging for the choir?  Too musically rich for the audience? Needs a really competent orchestra? 

The first part, Exodus, is unbroken and challenging for the choir, blended and enriched with continuous support from the orchestra.  Under Derek Harrison’s guidance the choir maintained a fine musical flow and the balance between the choir and the excellent Brandenburg Sinfonia was just right.

The first part in particular is full of vivid baroque word painting – the melody hopping about all over the place to “their land brought forth frogs”, or the wonderfully percussive settings of “He gave them hailstones” and “He smote all the first born of Egypt” bracketing the dense harmonies of “He sent a thick darkness over the land”. 

It was helpful having these texts in the programme to follow in order to join in the sheer fun that Handel’s music generates.  Whoever would have guessed that Handel was not entirely solemn? 

The Song of Moses saw the soloists take up their share of the work.  These were all students from the Guildhall School of Music, well on the road of promise but not always having the mature voice volume to fill the vast spaces of All Saints’, whose acoustics are not of the kindest. 

The voices of the two sopranos came together with beautiful balance in their duet The Lord is My Strength, particularly effective near the beginning of part two and the soprano solo Thou Didst Blow With the Wind was confident and clear. 

A thoroughly stimulating evening from Hertford Choral Society, which was abetted by the Hertford Art Society. The selection of their paintings inspired by the oratorio’s text responded in different modes.  The most successful were the more visionary responses, notably the baroque Rubenesque swirls of Janet Benge’s Flies and Worms and John Jarret’s storm clouds.

Richard Henderson

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