John Eliot Gardiner and his period instrument ensemble produce a lovely, smooth sound in these very well played performances, which use Handel's versions for strings and winds. Balances are fine; playing and recording collaborate to produce a treasurable clarity in which every line registers. –Leslie Gerber … Handel's epic oratorio, Israel in Egypt, here in a gripping performance by John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra, was a failure during Handel's lifetime. This was perhaps because of its immense variety of compositional techniques and forms. It is a virtual catalog of choral compositional methods, and thus stands outside the genre of 18th-century oratorio as such. Now, of course, it is recognized as what it is, a unique, dazzling work. –Joshua Cody … Although he billed this piece as an oratorio, it's really an opera–the first ever in English, and one of the finest too. Handel's audience wasn't fooled for a minute, and a successful performance needs a dazzling cast of singers, just as in the composer's Italian operas. Good as John Eliot Gardiner's singers are, they don't surpass John Nelson's cast on DG, nor does Gardiner's direction offer much competition. Had the DG not existed this would be perfectly recommendable, but life is cruel, and you deserve the best.(David Hurwitz)
Handel tinkered with this allegory throughout his career, producing various versions in Italian and English. The plot is a contest for the heart and mind of Beauty: Pleasure and Deceit encourage hedonism, arguing that "life consists in the present hour." Time and Counsel advise Beauty to forswear worldly pleasures, which "will soon decay". (Guess who wins.) You'd expect the villains to get all the good tunes, but the musical interest here is evenly spread. Time and Counsel get lively and contemplative arias; in particular, Varcoe makes Time's "Loathsome urns" beguiling and chilling. Kirkby, playing a villain for once, is an all-too-convincing Deceit; Partridge as Pleasure, though not ideally youthful, makes some gorgeous sounds. Fisher is well cast as Beauty, and Darlow's direction is a triumph.–Matthew Westphal
Celebrate the 250th anniversary of Handel's death with this impressive box set. 30-CD box set of the composer's most celebrated works–including the Royal Fireworks and Water Music, The Messiah, concerti grossi and much more! Featuring conductors Sir Neville Marriner, Christopher Hogwood, Trevor Pinnock, Mark Minkowski and others. Performances by the Gabrielli Players, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, English Baroque Soloists and others.
I do think that this Decca set is arguably the best compilation reissue of such a bulk of Handel work which has been released in a long time, just in time to commemorate the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the passing of il caro Sassone. There is a lot in this box, absence of libretti notwithstanding. The enclosed booklet is essential to navigate you through the track listings and timings and little else but a small general essay on GFH.By John Van Note