This is a full-length work for chorus, orchestra, and six vocal soloists.
George Frideric Handel, a German expatriate living in England, composed a series of English-language oratorios in the latter part of his life. Although he had made his extraordinary international reputation as a composer of Italian opera, the London audience's loss of interest in this art form led him to seek new avenues both of expression and of audience appeal.
The oratorio form as Handel developed it combines the melodiousness of Italian opera, a greatly enlarged role for the chorus, the grandeur of large ensembles and English librettos based not on classical antiquity (as in opera of that period) but on dramatically vital biblical stories that were well known to the audience, into full-evening entertainments whose drama arises from the sheer inventiveness of the music rather than from stage effects and lavish costumes.
Messiah is the best known and most frequently performed of these works (it is arguably the single most popular work in the repertoire). Israel in Egypt, composed in 1738 for performance in the spring of 1739, is perhaps the most unusual of them. Unlike more typical Handel oratorios such as Messiah, whose structure is mainly composed of solo arias interspersed with choruses for contrast, in Israel in Egypt attention is focused primarily on the chorus. This probably is what led to the work's lack of popularity during Handel's lifetime: the composer even felt compelled to add solos and delete choruses for later performances, though without the success achieved by others among his oratorios.
Israel in Egypt became popular with the rise of choral societies during the 19th century, until for a time it surpassed Messiah in popularity. In the late 20th century, with the advent of historically informed performance, such large-scale productions became unfashionable, and Israel in Egypt again declined in frequency of performance, though numerous recordings continue to be made.
We plan to present the complete originally-composed version of Israel in Egypt, omitting the first part (which is simply a reproduction of already-existing music put to a new text), prefaced by an appropriate Handel overture, that to Solomon - a choice for which there is substantial precedent. We also plan to include, as entr'acte to the second part, Handel's Organ Concerto No. 13 ("The Cuckoo and the Nightingale"), which was almost certainly performed as part of the premiere performance of Israel in Egypt. This will result in a performance of normal concert length, but without the disfiguring cuts within sections, which are prevalent in contemporary performances of Handel oratorios. (Audiences in the 18th century accepted concerts of far greater length than those of today.) This was for many years the "standard" performance approach to this work, and remains so for all but specialist historical-performance groups.