HANDEL'S Israel in Egypt was conveyed in vivid broadbrush colours by Royal Northern Sinfonia and Chorus at Durham Cathedral. The musical canvas was studded with scintillating singing by six young Samling Artist soloists, with tenor Timothy Langston projecting a powerful opening recitative Now there arose a new king.

The rare performance of the oratorio was directed by baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan, who extracted every ounce of drama from the score, while maintaining a driving momentum to the narrative.

Handel took particular pride in his depictions of the ten plagues visited on the Egypt and they were done full justice. In the turning of the Nile into a river of blood the chorus churned with dissonance.

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Countertenor Tim Morgan gave a brilliant account of the plague of leaping frogs, sung against hopping configurations from the violins.

The flies and locusts descended on a frenzied whirring of wings, while the first hailstones spat from the skies on dotted oboes.

The chorus conveyed the thick darkness over the land in brooding lines, before unleashing all their fury when the plagues culminated in the Lord smiting down the first born.

One of many highlights of evening was a soaring soprano duet from Rowan Pierce and Elin Prichard, who voices complemented each other perfectly in The Lord is my strength and my song.

The bass duet by Benjamin Lewis and Christopher Nairne had a resonant gravitas. The chorus, for their part, made the most of the cavernous acoustic space of the cathedral, giving brilliant renderings of the fugal passages.

Pierce’s treatment of Thou didst blow with the wind voice was superlative, while Pritchard reached new heights in Sing ye to the Lord. The whole was driving to a heady conclusion.

The performance is repeated at Sage Gateshead at 7.30pm tonight. A limited number of tickets are available. Box office: 0191-443 4661.