It would have been so uplifting, their wandering in the wilderness might have been only a matter of days, not their depressing 40 years of indecision.
In a word, this performance was stunning.
That Handel wrote it in 1738 belies its highly programmatic structure; it could have been a film soundtrack, such is its agile and imaginative storytelling. Bach Akademie Australia, led by director Madeleine Easton, and playing original instruments, accounted for themselves brilliantly, painting vivid pictures of darkness and hailstones, and even flies and frogs, as well as the iconic parting of the Red Sea. Their accompaniment of the singers was beautifully understated and perfectly balanced.
The choir, made up of Coro, Luminescence Chamber Singers, and Kompactus Youth Choir, singing in single and double chorus formats, was thrilling from beginning to end. Balance and stereo effects were superb, pitch and entries were perfect.
Compared to most other oratorios, there’s not a lot of work for the soloists in “Israel in Egypt”, but there were a few very special highlights.
Tenor, Richard Butler’s crystal-clear voice, singing the long and difficult melismas, including multiple triplets in “The enemy said” was brilliant.
The two baroque flutes were in beautiful echo to Susannah Lawergren’s soprano voice floating through the vast space in “Thou didst blow”.
Counter tenor, Tobias Cole, gave a heartfelt account of “Thou shalt bring them in”, with magnificent phrasing and control.
And the two basses, Andrew Fysh and Andrew O’Connor, left the audience in no doubt whatever that “The Lord is a man of war”.
All the while, the man at the helm, Roland Peelman, was in high emotion, with extraordinarily expressive but tightly-controlled conducting, pulling every sensitivity and colour, passion and mind’s-eye picture out of this truly inspiring work.
It was a privilege to witness such superb musicianship from these fabulous Australian musicians. Five stars to them all.