Music of the Baroque's 'Israel in Egypt'

By John Von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
April 09, 2013

Music director Jane Glover's journey through the big 18th century choral masterpieces with her Music of the Baroque chorus and orchestra took her to Handel's biblical oratorio "Israel in Egypt," in a stylish and satisfying performance heard Sunday evening at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

Largely because of its many magnificent choruses, "Israel in Egypt" has managed to run a respectable second to "Messiah" as Handel's most popular oratorio. MOB's fine chorus, prepared by its director, William Jon Gray, honored the composer's musical invention with secure blending of voices (34 in all) and the crisp urgency of its declamation.

Glover understood that Handel was, first and foremost, a man of the theater. Her shaping of the second and third parts, which depict the plagues visited on Egypt and Moses' hymn of praise following the Exodus, respectively, reflected a vivid and exacting attention to the text. The depiction of buzzing flies, hopping frogs and swarming locusts was nicely taken by the MOB strings. Glover adhered to the composer's own performance practice by omitting Part 1, "The Lamentation of the Israelites for the Death of Joseph," thereby shaving about 45 minutes off an already long oratorio.

Apart from a rather weak countertenor, the vocal soloists (all members of the MOB chorus) made admirable contributions. Particularly impressive was soprano Sarah Gartshore in her ethereal aria, "Thou didst blow with the wind" and in the exultant final chorus, "Sing ye to the Lord." Tenor Daniel Shirley's articulate delivery was to the Handelian manner born.