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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Angelika Kirchschlager sings Christmas Carols
Richard STORRS WILLIS (1819-1900)
It came upon the Midnight clear [4.00]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
In the bleak Midwinter [3.57]
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
O Holy Night [3.35]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Christkindleins Wiegenlied [4.03]; Weihnachten [3.02]
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863)
Stille Nacht [2.42]
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874) Weihnachtslieder; Op. 8: Christbaum [1.47]; Die Hirten [2.39]; Drei Könige [2.11]; Simeon [2.24]; Christus der Kinderfreund [2.15]; Christkind [1.40]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Weihnachtsoratorium BWV 248: Bereite dich; Zion [5.03]
Traditional: Gloria in excelsis Deo [3.18]; Away in a Manger [2.29]; The Huron Carol [4.03]; What child is this [2.47]; Ballade de Jésus Christ [2.34]; Vom Himmel hoch; da komm ich her [2.57]
Angelika Kirchschlager (mezzo)
Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich/Alfred Eschwé (tracks 1-9)
Helmut Deutsch (piano) (tracks 10-17)
Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon (Bach)
Arrangements by John Lenehan (tracks 2-8)
rec. ORF Radiokulturhaus, Vienna, Austria, 12-15 September 2007 (all tracks except Bach); Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, Venice, Italy, 12 January 2002 (Bach)
Booklet notes in English. Sung texts in original languages with English translation
SONY BMG 88697199412 [57.26]

 

Experience Classicsonline


It seems slightly strange to be reviewing a CD of Christmas Carols at the beginning of spring. However it does make one more objective than during the seasonal period when one is inundated with such music!

Being a person who does not really appreciate religious music - least of all Christmas carols - I tried nevertheless to be totally fair in my appreciation of Angelika Kirchschlager’s recital. Kirchschlager is a very talented Austrian mezzo-soprano. Hers is a lovely and at times sexy voice, although, she occasionally lacks dramatic intensity and emotional insight. This is arguably more of a problem in a recital of arias or Lieder, however it does at times make the rendition of some of these carols a little dry and indifferent.

The most interesting offer is, to my mind, the set of Christmas Carols, Op. 8 by German composer Peter Cornelius as these are lesser known but enjoyable pieces. Unfortunately they are not as appealing melodically as most traditional carols. Nevertheless, this is a worthy attempt at placing something a little different in the middle of a selection of otherwise popular pieces commonly found in anthologies of Christmas music. Pianist Helmut Deutsch sympathetically accompanies in the Cornelius pieces as well as in Humperdinck’s two items. Kirchschlager’s interpretation of the Cornelius and Humperdinck is sensitive and precise. She knows exactly where and how to place her voice in relation to the piano, clearly demonstrating her earlier training as a pianist. However, I could not help but feel that if she were able to express a little more dramatic sentiment the carols would have become a touch more attractive.

Bach’s Bereite dich, Zion from his Weihnachtsoratorium is excellently executed, though perhaps because of the traditionally popular tone of the carols, the piece gives the impression of being out of place. Kirchschlager’s performance, though solid, fails to impress.

The mezzo’s best performance in this recital is undoubtedly of Franz Xaver Gruber’s Stille Nacht. This she cleverly chose to sing accompanied only by two guitars, as originally intended by the composer. Her rendition is not only beautiful but also heartfelt. The guitars perfectly cushion her voice and the result is brilliant, giving a touch of originality and freshness to a lovely piece that is sung a little too often. Intelligently, Kirchschlager also chose to sing it in the original German. The words melt perfectly with the music and the feelings of peace, quiet and tenderness are therefore much more effective.

The remaining carols are mostly well known traditional ones. Kirchschlager sings the versions arranged by distinguished pianist John Lenehan. These are insightful and delicate and the singer is suitably and effectively accompanied and conducted in a sensitive manner. One cannot say that Kirchschlager sings badly because she does not. Technically she is very good but the fact that she does not inject any emotion into the melodies, makes these carols sound tiresome and uninteresting though pleasant enough. Particularly weak is the rendition of Adam’s O Holy Night where the voice is slightly thin at the highest register. She hits the high notes without strain but cannot sustain them for long. They quickly fade thus making the singing less vivid and joyful.

Having said all that, this CD is by no means poor. The pieces are popular and pleasantly sung; the orchestra, piano and guitar accompaniments are excellent. One can tell that a good deal of care was put into the selection and recording of the carols, always with a genuine attempt at being faithful to the composers’ original ideas. As with most recitals of this kind, it is good to have it on the shelf and use it as background music during the Christmas celebrations. That said, I could not help but think that a talent such as Ms. Kirchschlager’s could have done considerably better.

Margarida Mota-Bull



 


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