Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

BACH, Johann Sebastian
Christmas Oratorio
Julian Wachner, Boston Bach Ensemble, Anne Harley, Thomas Gregg, Robert Pitcher
Titanic 5 569 72 7  [147.44]

Amazon US  

Along with the Magnificat and the St. Matthew Passion, Bach's Christmas Oratorio is one of his most popular choral works. Bach composed his music emotively and dramatically. Titanic's Christmas Oratorio is a moving presentation, one that uses a fresh contemporary approach to draw the listeners closely into its world. In most cases, the sound is closely miked, giving the solo arias an almost intimate aura. As the evangelist, tenor Robert Pitcher sings "In ihrem Herzen" with dramatic tenderness. Soprano Anne Harley sings the famous "Echo" song, "Flößt, mein Heiland," with a scintillating lyrical voice. Conductor Julian Wachner places the echo sopranos closer to her than usual, creating a nice cozy atmosphere. While this parody from Hercules always seems an oddly inappropriate transposition, I'm glad it's in the oratorio. Tenor Thomas Gregg sings "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren Leben" with a competent melisma, but one that sounds understated, languid even, as if he's accustomed to singing 19th Century lieder. This is not to undervalue his approach. It is consistent with Wachner's contemporary style and as such is perfectly acceptable.

I prefer Hänssler Edition's Christmas Oratorio (92.076), partly because in pieces like "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren Leben" the tempo is livelier and tenor Marcus Ullmann's melisma is organic to his snappy singing style . But you may find it difficult to prefer one to the other because the aria is about strength, not speed. Rilling's choral finale "Nur seid ihr wohl gerochen" is particularly brisk, with sharp differentiation between the two choruses. Perhaps it is a little too brisk, as if everybody's in a hurry to get home after church services. In this respect, finales in other versions tend to be longer longer, allows more time to digest the machinations of Bach's counterpoint. They have more pomp. You could even say they're more pious.

Peter Bates

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