Jörg-Peter Weigle

Handel: Israel in Agypten

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Handel's oratorios have been hugely popular in Germany since the composer's lifetime so there is a long tradition of their performance in German, and Berlin Classics recorded a number of them between the 1960s and 1990s. The performances vary considerably in quality, and this version of Israel in Ägypten is not among one of the more successful efforts. Most problematic is the fact that this is the abbreviated version of the oratorio, which was long the standard performing version, but the many more recent complete recordings supersede the shorter ones. At barely an hour and a half, it seems dinky, given the monumentality of the subject matter. The fact that it's sung in German would not necessarily be a disqualifier if the performance were stellar, but it rarely rises above the mediocre. Wolf-Dieter Hauschild's literal reading of the score is plodding and pedantic. In spite of the vivid events of the narrative -- misery, plagues, miracles, death and destruction, redemption -- Hauschild gives scant indication that anything particularly interesting is going on. The performance is enervated, or at best, polite, when the text and the music cry out for high drama. The chorus and orchestra perform with sterile precision. The vocal soloists (who have far less to do in Israel in Egypt than in almost any other Handel oratorio) vary in effectiveness, but alto Rosemarie Lang is impressive. The sound is clean and full.

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