So much music that was a failure on its first outing ends up among their composer’s great masterpieces, Handel’s oratorio, Israel in Egypt, only surviving by having a few songs later included “to lift its gloom”.
It was ahead of its time. Audiences in the early part of the 18th century preferred hearing soloists rather than long passages of choral singing. That taste changed when large choirs came into fashion in northern England, and next Monday the St Peter’s Singers revisit the work in a Leeds Town Hall concert. “The Singers have been good enough to give me their time during the February half-term,” comments their conductor, Simon Lindley, “so that each year we can present a special choral programme as part of the Monday Lunchtime series.”
Based at the Parish Church, the membership is a mix of professional and outstanding amateur singers who are well equipped to provide extended seasons that are outside of the scope of our amateur choirs. This year’s programme contains 12 major events. “In order to keep the work within reasonable length,” continues Lindley, “we make small cuts in three of the movements and omit three movements altogether. We aim to be through in 75 minutes without any undue haste!”
Unlike many choirs who today struggle to find quality singers, St Peter’s will also be supplying the work’s solo voices, and after a few days’ respite, they begin rehearsals for Bach’s St Matthew Passion their performance marking the centenary of the English version from Elgar and Atkins.
Handel: Israel in Egypt, Leeds Town Hall, February 21, 1.05pm. Bach: St Matthew Passion, Leeds Parish Church, March 27, 3pm and 5.30pm. Both performances are free with a retiring collection.