Handel, who could whip off a masterpiece in less time than it takes many of us to write out a laundry list, got carried away in composing an extended anthem on the biblical song of Moses and Miriam and just couldn't quit. A few extra days' work produced a prologue, the Exodus, and together these became the oratorio "Israel in Egypt."
Yesterday in the Washington Cathedral the Cathedral Choral Society with Paul Callaway at the helm had a lovely time with this most choral of Handel's big works.
Clearly, Handel had the most fun with part I, with its loathsome plagues of locusts and lice and blotches and blains and, for good measure, hailstorms. So did the chorus and other musical forces at Callaway's disposal.
They danced through these disasters with spirit and good humor, and when the Lord led his people forth like sheep, they were like the gentlest and most graceful sheep imaginable.
The soloists, who do not have a very large role in this piece, did their jobs well. Counter tenor Drew Minter was particularly effective, perhaps because the light orchestration in each of his solos allowed him to be heard most clearly. And together, Minter and tenor James McDonald achieved intelligent and sympathetic ensemble.
Callaway was at his most impressive in this performance, moving from chorus to chorus with a sure hand and with beautifully judged pacing.