Israel in Egypt (HWV 54) is a biblical oratorio by the composer George Frideric Handel. Many historians believe the libretto was compiled by Handel’s collaborator Charles Jennens, and it is composed entirely of selected passages from the Hebrew Bible, mainly from Exodus and the Psalms. Handel premiered it in April of 1739, one of a series of works that began with Alexander’s Feast in 1736, and which culminated in 1742′s Messiah. Israel in Egypt came at a transition point for Handel, as the oratorios were so generally successful that he was using more choral parts and less soloists, with Part 1 of Israel in Egypt consisting entirely of choral parts. Handel later moderated this practice, and he later made a revised version of Israel in Egypt in 1756, balancing the choral parts with solo parts, similar to what he had done with Messiah. Tonight’s recording gives the listener both options, but we shall hear the original version, as Handel premiered it in 1739. The recording is a truly excellent one, one of the 2013 Grammy nominees for Best Choral Recording (a well deserved nomination). The Trinity Wall Street Church Choir and Orchestra are conducted by Julian Wachner.
Aida, one of Giuseppe Verdi‘s truly great works, was commissioned by an Ottoman governor of Egypt, and as such is set in Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and was premiered in Cairo, Egypt, in 1871. Verdi did not write an overture for the opera, so it just dives right into the action. It ranks as the 13th most performed opera worldwide, with more than 1,100 performances at the Met. It was the first opera to be televised, has been made into several motion pictures, and the story was used as the basis for a musical by Elton John and Tim Rice.
Tonight’s recording is a 1962 recording, featuring Leontyne Price, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, Franco Riccardi. Sir Georg Solti conducts the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro del’Opera di Roma. The recording is not without some controversy, as some think that Solti was too bombastic with how he handled the orchestra, and that he took the opera into Wagnerian territory. This is fairly natural, as Aida is probably the closest that Verdi came to Wagnerian proportions. But many will argue that this may be one of the best Aida recordings available.
Our last piece this evening is a choral piece from the Danish composer Ugis Praulins. The Nightingale is a 2010 composition that is based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. It was nominated for two 2013 Grammy Awards, for Best Choral Recording and for Best Contemporary Composition. Michala Petri performs on recorder, with Stephen Layton leading the Danish National Vocal Ensemble.