Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Christmas Oratorio, BWV248.
Sibylla Rubens (soprano);
Ingeborg Danz (alto); James Taylor (tenor, Evangelist); Marcus Ullmann (tenor);
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass); Gächinger Kantorei; Bach-Collegium
Bachakademie CD92.076 [three discs] [DDD]
According to the booklet, this recording began on Christmas Day, 1999. Far
from giving the impression that the musicians have been dragged away from
their roasts with attendant trimmings, however, Rilling inspires his forces
to a compulsively alert rendering of the Christmas Oratorio.
This cycle of six cantatas (for Christmas Day, the next two days, Feast of
the Circumcision, the Sunday after New Year and Feast of Epiphany) was written
for the Christmas period of 1734-5. It has long been a Bachian favourite
and so Rilling enters a full field, at the head of which lie Koopman (Erato
0620 14635-2), Suzuki (BIS 941/2) and Gardiner (Archiv 423 232-2). All boast
fine soloists. Rilling eschews star names, giving the impression of a truly
concerted effort, working together towards one vision. Whilst working on
this review, I was fortunate enough to hear Gardiner's latest Bach Cantatas
release (Nos. 94, 105 and 168 on Archiv 463 590-2). Rilling loses nothing
in freshness and candour to Gardiner in his understanding of Bach.
From the very first bars there is a celebratory urgency to Rilling's account.
Jauchzet, frohlocket positively bursts with vitality and shoes off
the strengths of the recording quality: clean and with a true sense of
The soprano Sibylla Rubens is pure and fully equipped to negotiate the many
florid passages. Ingeborg Danz is every semiquaver her equal: the extended
aria Schlafe mein Liebster from the second Cantata shows off all her
qualities. The light, high tenor of James Taylor suits the Evangelist well.
To sample the bass Müller-Bachmann, try his duet in the third Cantata
with the soprano (Herr, dein Mittleid, dein Erbarmen). This is the
most extended movement of that Cantata, yet seems to last not a millisecond
A word of praise must go to the obbligati contributions from the orchestra
throughout the set. Perhaps the horns of the fourth Cantata deserve special
mention for coping so stylishly with their cruelly high parts.
An excellent set. My copy credited the wrong cantatas to discs two and three,
a potentially confusing situation Hänssler would do well to rectify
if widespread. A minor ergonomic quibble: this is a set that will bring much
pleasure and which deserves repeated listening.
and a second view from Peter Bates:
Along with the Magnificat and the St. Matthew Passion, Bach's Christmas Oratorio
is one of his most popular choral works. Yet few listeners in the holiday
season throng know that Bach created several of the oratorio sections from
three previous secular cantatas, a practice known as "parody." Bach thought
nothing wrong, for example, with using Cantata BWV 213 ("Hercules auf dem
Scheidewege"), which celebrates the birthday of young Prince Friedrich Christian,
for his Christmas Oratorio sections that celebrate the birthday of the redeemer.
He was in favor of anything that conveyed the music emotively and dramatically.
No doubt he would approve of multiple interpretations of his work, believing,
like Shostakovich did, that there are no right or wrong interpretations,
only ineffectual ones.
Hänssler Edition's Christmas Oratorio has an authentic feel to it common
to the original instrument adherents, although conductor Helmuth Rilling
does not use original instruments. Yet his spirited lively rendition, evident
from the glorious opening "Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf preiset die Tage," makes
you realize why Hänssler chose Rilling for its complete Bach edition.
Soprano Sibylla Rubens and bass Hanno-Muller-Brachtman sing the "Herr dein
Mitleid" duet with impeccable timing and dazzlingly sharp intonation. Rilling's
tempo picks up in arias like "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren Leben." In this aria,
tenor Marcus Ullmann's melisma is organic to his snappy singing style . While
this rendition is considerably faster than
Titanic 5 569 72 7 (4:39 vs. 5:23), you
may find it difficult to prefer one to the other because the aria is about
strength, not speed. Rilling's "Flößt, mein Heiland" is also quite
different from Wachner's. The echo sopranos are hauntingly distant. Sibylla
Rubens' assertive voice makes you feel like you've time-traveled to 1735
Leipzig. Hers is an obsessively controlled voice, more sibilant than most
other interpreters and with more pronounced rolling of the r's. 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,
Titanic's finale, more than a minute longer, allows more time to digest the
machinations of Bach's counterpoint.