Is Handel’s Israel in Egypt as flawed an oratorio as many have argued? We know he was working at high speed between the more generally admired Saul and Messiah; it’s text, whoever compiled it, is basic and colourless; and the score littered with back references to other Handel hits. Yet, here was a performance by the SCO and Chorus – disciplined, energetic and sewn together with compelling fluidity under choral specialist Peter Dijkstra – that suggested there’s a lot more to this work than conventional criticism would have us believe, especially those highly-suggestive depictions of the plagues.
SCO: Israel in Egypt ****
City Halls, Glasgow
Is it too fanciful to suggest that the seething, scurrying textural complexities of the lice and locusts, topped with sizzling, surreal containment by the SCO strings, foreshadow the intricate instrumental imagery of, say, Haydn’s Creation? Or that the sombre magisterial tones underpinning the “thick Darkness” conjure up a Brucknerian solemnity a century ahead of its time? At the same time, you get Handel, in the terse choral declamations that act as quasi-narration, recasting Monteverdi in his own image.
Dijkstra made a remarkably cohesive case through inspired team work from a tip-top SCO, six wonderful soloists (among them lustrous soprano Ilse Eerens, wholesomely expressive counter tenor Iestyn Davies, the fiery animation of James Gilchrist and meaty bass of Ashley Riches) and a double chorus well up to this athletic Handelian challenge, showing just a hint of tiredness at the end.