London Handel Festival
Handel Singing Competition: Semi-Final
St George’s, Hanover Square, 6 March 2020
UPDATE: It is intended that the final of the competition will be held at some future date.
I would normally wait until the final of the annual Handel Singing Competition before mentioning some of those who I heard in the semi-final but, with the Coronavirus cancellation of the entire London Handel Festival, this turns out to be the only review of the festival that I will be writing. The final would have been this evening, 24 March, so it seems an appropriate time to post this review of the semi-final. The reason I try to attend semi-finals of competitions like this is that I frequently hear people who, in my view, should have got through to the final but, for reasons best known to the judges, don’t make it. The London Handel Festival’s annual Handel Singing Competition is no exception to this situation.
Handel: Israel in Egypt (original 1739 version)
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall. 1 August 2017
A combination of Handel, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and William Christie is bound to sell out the vast auditorium of the Royal Albert Hall, but the first performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, in 1739, was not so successful. Many stayed away because of the biblical context of the work, and those that came were not overly impressed. The reasons are complex, but are generally to do with Handel’s move from opera to the new musical form of oratorio. The slightly earlier oratorio Saul, written just before Israel and Egypt, was a great success, no doubt because the musical style included more elements of opera. Israel in Egypt was far more hard-core, not least in the use of choruses. The first part, nearly always omitted in present day performances, is a continuous sequence of 12 choruses. Part Two has 7 and Part Three 8, but these are broken up by a few arias, duets, and recitatives. Handel made many subsequent changes to the score, and it is usually now performed in the 1756 version, with its odd recitative start (which refers back to the non-existent Part One) and no Symphony. It was the inclusion of Part One, and what was supposed to be (but I think was not quite) the original 1739 version, that made this Proms performance so special. Continue reading