Soprano Lydia Teuscher and tenor Benjamin Hulett perform on the latest release on the VIVAT label, of Mendelssohn’s 1833 reconstruction of Handel’s great oratorio ‘Israel in Egypt’.
Lydia and Benjamin join soprano Julia Doyle, alto Hilary Summers, bass Roderick Williams and The King’s Consort, conducted by Robert King.
Mendelssohn’s 1833 score was painstakingly reconstructed by Robert King for a performance in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Mendelssohn Festival before heading to the studio. Incorporating early nineteenth-century performing practice – bringing a notably different approach to portamento, rubato, vibrato, trills and slurring – and pitched at A=430, here is a familiar work in wholly new clothing.
You can watch a video of the recording session here
Throughout his life, Mendelssohn was constantly drawn to the music of Bach and Handel, researching and performing their works, aiming to return to the composers’ intentions. Indeed, Mendelssohn could be considered to be one the earliest of exponents of today’s historical performance practice.
On a visit to London in 1829, the 20-year-old Mendelssohn excitedly studied sixty volumes of Handel’s music. ‘Israel in Egypt’ particularly fascinated him, and he spotted that Handel’s manuscript contained movements not contained in what was then the only available published score. Four years later, 1833, in Düsseldorf he performed, to great acclaim, his version of Handel’s ‘Israel in Egypt’.
That historic performance has itself now been painstakingly reconstructed from fragments and sources spread across Europe. And radically different it is to listeners familiar with Handel’s 1739 score. The large and colourful orchestra play nineteenth-century instruments, producing vivid new sonorities, and including very different orchestrations. Mendelssohn had no organ at his performance, so scored the continuo part into the orchestra, making especial use of a pair of clarinets. He added a series of recitatives, which he accompanied by the delicious combination of two solo cellos and a double bass. There are significant changes to the order of movements, as well as new numbers. The text is sung in German. And the work starts with a thrilling, pure-Mendelssohn overture, which mixes life and energy with moments of exquisitely shifting instrumental colours.