CHAMPAIGN — The Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana will close their 16th season with a performance next Sunday evening of George Frideric Handel's popular oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus."
The Central Illinois Children's Chorus will join the BACH chorus and orchestra, as well as soloists including soprano Kathy Linger, countertenor Christopher Holman, tenor Lee Steiner and bass Ricardo Herrera.
In the oratorio, Steiner and Herrera sing the only named characters — Judas Maccabaeus and his brother Simon, respectively — while Linger and Holman are an unnamed pair of Israelite commentators.
In addition to the choruses that typify Handel's oratorios, the chief asset of this oratorio is its lyric solo and duet music. Arias like "Sound an alarm," "Arm, arm ye brave," "Pious orgies," and "Father of Heaven" have become staples in anthologies of oratorio solos.
Three other pieces of special interest are the duet "Hail, Judea happy land," "Come ever smiling liberty" and "See the conquering hero comes." All three will feature the children's chorus, with support from the soloists and the BACH chorus.
Among Handel's oratorios, this work stands second only to "Messiah" in popularity, being replete with dramatic choruses and expressive arias, according to Chester Alwes, founder and music director of BACH.
The back story is the Maccabaean revolt against the oppression of the Syrians in the second century B.C. The Maccabees, the ruling house of Israel, have just begun their revolt when King Mattathias dies suddenly. One of his sons, Judas, quickly becomes the successor due to his piety and his military prowess.
In truth, "Judas Maccabaeus" is the best known of a series of "occasional" oratorios composed by Handel to celebrate English victories in their ongoing attempt to rebuff invasions by those who would restore Catholicism as the religion in England. The oratorio was inspired by the English victory at the battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746.
Handel's librettist, Thomas Morrell, writes in his memoirs that the plan of "Judas Maccabaeus" was designed as a compliment to the Duke of Cumberland, leader of the victorious English forces. Thus, once again Handel is using Old Testament stories and heroes as proxies for contemporary British personalities.
The concert will get under way at 7:30 p.m. in Smith Recital Hall, 805 S. Mathews Ave., U,. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and are available at http://www.baroqueartists.org  and at the door on the evening of the performance. At this concert, the dates and repertory for BACH's next season will be announced.