For us music enthusiasts in the Bachtrack community, it is not only about who we would love to see perform or the works we would love to hear. It is also about the places, the temples, that we want to experience with all our senses on those occasions – La Fenice, Teatro Real or perhaps Hamburg's new Elbphilharmonie? On Tuesday night I was able to tick off two of my musical goals, listening to a BBC Proms concert at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. I was blown away by the size of the hall, especially the height, and the decoration and red velvet seats (that you can turn comfortably to watch the performance, very clever). Strange for me though they did not dim the lights (to better watch your fellow music worshippers?).

William Christie conducts The OAE
William Christie conducts The OAE

The performance was of Handel's oratorio Israel in Egypt performed by the Orchestra and Choir of the Age of the Enlightenment with William Christie conducting. Handel based his composition, first performed in 1739 at the King's Theatre on Haymarket, on the biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. The oratorio is almost completely based on choruses which was highly unusual for Handel. Nowadays we might think the opposite simply because Israel in Egypt and Messiah are his two most popular oratorios. But in fact, Handel chose a new musical direction when he started to compose Israel in Egypt in 1737. No libretto and no dialogues, but instead he borrowed his text directly from the scriptures and kept it as narrative. He would later do the same with Messiah.  

This was the first time that the original three-part version of Handel's composition was presented at the Proms. For a London revival of the oratorio in 1756, just three years before the composer's death, Part 1 had been removed and for some reason it had never really been attached again. Though only the original version makes the composition whole, that means a symmetrical, evenly structured work, the solo parts being embraced by the choruses.

Singing in the RAH must be both thrilling and intimidating, but all the soloists did a wonderful job. Rowan Pierce's soprano soared high across our heads thanks to being rich with overtones. Countertenor Christopher Lowrey entered the stage with a huge grin on his face, maybe because he had to sing about frogs that the Lord had brought onto Egypt. Zoë Brookshaw and Rowan Pierce sang well in duet and a murmuring went through the audience as bass Dingle Yandell hit his first notes – what presence and penetration! 

The solo parts were all set in the second of the three parts of the composition. Parts 1 and 3 were chorus-based. The voices of the choir were angelic and immaculate. Christie encouraged the OAE to phrase softly, the overall sound being smooth, never edgy.

The evening ended with thunderous applause and it was indeed a wonderful performance. Christie played it safe, did not risk extremes or experiments in dynamics or tempi. Thus he and the orchestra and choir perfected a smooth and homogeneous sound that was very enjoyable.