Vancouver Bach Choir
Conductor Bruce Pullan
Soloists Lambroula Pappas, soprano Sarah Fryer, mezzo-soprano John Bacon, tenor Michael Robert Broder, baritone Dale Throness, bass
Date 31 March 2007 Venue Orpheum Theatre Reviewer John Jane
Israel in Egypt was the second of six oratorios that Handel composed in England having a religious theme. Taken from the Book of Exodus, it relates the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Yahweh opened the sea allowing the Israelites to pass; then closed it again, drowning the Pharaoh and all his soldiers. It is essentially a choral oratorio and even though its text is entirely scriptural, it has to be considered a secular work.
Performances of the work during Handel’s life-time were received without much enthusiasm; nevertheless, recent generations of scholars have come to laud it as a choral masterpiece.
With Israel in Egypt, Handel appears to draw substantially from some of his other works. Though it was composed later, structural similarities to the Hallelujah Chorus (Messiah) can be heard in the introductory chorus in Moses’ Song, Moses and the Children of Israel
Though the chorus assumes the central role, the three duets and three arias by featured soloists add just enough textural variance to prevent tedium. Vocally, the soloists are given short shrift here. However, soprano, Lambroula Pappas and mezzo-soprano, Sarah Fryer provide the warmth and clarity that this dramatic score demands. Ms Fryer in particular showcases her natural poise; joining the choir in the final song of triumph, Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously.
Of the male soloists, the youthful John Bacon as featured tenor carries most of the burden and while his delivery is technically perfect, I would have liked to have heard a little more authority in his arias. Dale Throness and Michael Robert Broder’s bass duet, The Lord is a Man of War, was precise, yet full of vigour.
Maestro Bruce Pullan demonstrated clear command of voices and orchestra with a strong grasp of the music’s pathos, guiding both elements to a truly fine interpretation.
The Vancouver Bach Choir, with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s strings and percussion sections together offering one of Handel’s most dramatic oratorios made for an inspired musical evening.
© 2007 John Jane