This BR Klassik release contains a live recording from two actual performances
of the Weihnachtsoratorium
. Sadly no sung texts are provided.
Discs 3 and 4 set out an ‘Introduction’ to the Christmas
with musical examples. It is written by Bach expert Wieland
Schmid and is narrated by Christian Brückner. The whole of the
‘Introduction’ is spoken in German and so are the booklet
notes. There are no English translations. As a non-German speaker I
am not able to offer any further comment on the contents of discs 3
is a popular composition. Bach gave its first
performance at Leipzig over the Christmas period of 1734-35. It comprises six
parts with each intended to be performed on one of the six major feast days
of the Christmas period to Epiphany. The oratorio is an example of Bach extensively
reusing music from his earlier works. The texts were most probably selected
by poet Christian Friedrich Henrici aka Picander together with his own contributions.
Directing the performance is choral specialist Peter Dijkstra, a BR Klassik
regular, who has gathered around him a well balanced and nicely contrasted quartet
of solo singers, the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Akademie für
Alte Musik Berlin.
Rachel Harnisch a Swiss soprano is heard in the ‘echo’ aria from
part 4 Flößt, mein Heiland, flößt dein Namen
soprano Sonja Philippin singing the ‘echo’ all accompanied by solo
oboe. Harnisch is also the soloist in the part 6 aria Nur ein Wink von seinen
to oboe d'amore accompaniment. Harnisch’s attractive voice
is bright and clear, yet singing with fitting sacred restraint.
German born mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung sings in three solo arias. First is her
part 1 aria Bereite dich, Zion, mit zärtlichen Trieben
the substantial lullaby to the baby Jesus from part 2 Schlafe, mein Liebster,
geniesse der Ruh
with flute and next from part 3 the aria Schließe,
mein Herze, dies selige Wunder
to appealing violin accompaniment. Vondung’s
creamy timbre is notable as is and ability to project her voice so directly
yet with reverence.
Tenor Maximilian Schmitt’s first flute-accompanied aria is from part 2
Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet
. He also has an aria in part 4 Ich will
nur dir zu Ehren leben
with violins and also in part aria 6 Nun mögt
ihr stolzen Feinde strecken
with solo oboe d'amore. Schmitt’s silvery
fresh voice brings with it an appropriate piety.
Christian Immler has two solos arias. From part 1 Großer Herr und starker
to trumpet, flute and strings and also the part 4 aria Erleucht'
auch meine finstre Sinnen
with solo oboe d'amore. In his youth a former
member of the Tölzer Knabenchor the controlled Munich born bass-baritone
sings with devotional calm.
Especially worthy of note is the lengthy part 3 duet Herr, dein Mitleid,
to oboe d'amore accompaniment between Harnisch and Immler.
Also significant is the part 5 trio Ach! wann wird die Zeit erscheinen?
with solo violin accompaniment sung by Harnisch, Vondung and Schmitt. The trio
bring sacred ardour to a text describing how the people desire comfort and nourishment
from the birth of Jesus.
With a large number of choral sections in the oratorio the excellent Chor des
Bayerischen Rundfunks contribute substantially. They sing with unerring clarity
and weight and firmly projected. The highly engaging period-instrument orchestra
play immaculately. Although it hardly seems fair to single out sections I especially
enjoyed the solo woodwind and brass contributions. In the last few years I have
heard and reviewed several recordings by Dijkstra so I know the elevated level
of expertise that he demands. I made his recent Sony
release of the Fauré Requiem
Four Motets for a Time of Penitence
with the Bayerischen Rundfunks and
Münchener Kammerorchester one of my Recordings of the Year
Dijkstra’s direction is alert and unfailingly intelligent with just the
right degree of forward momentum. The recording engineers have done a fine job
with pleasing sound quality.
There are several recommendable recordings of the Christmas Oratorio
Firstly a stunningly inspiring version by Karl Richter with the Münchener
Bach-Chor and Münchener Bach-Orchester from 1965 at the Herkulessaal, Munich.
Richter’s quartet of soloists Gundula Janowitz (soprano), Christa Ludwig
(tenor) and Franz Crass (bass) could
hardly be bettered. The recording forms part of a magnificent ten disc set conducted
by Karl Richter titled Sacred Masterpieces
. It’s on Archiv Produktion
465 701-2. Secondly there is the recording sung by The Sixteen and played on
period-instruments by The Symphony of Harmony and Invention directed by Harry
Christophers. The soloists: Lynda Russell (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (contralto),
Mark Padmore (tenor), and Michael George (bass) are in remarkably fine voice.
Recorded in London in 1993 Christophers is an impressive guide providing well
prepared performances of real distinction on Coro COR16017.
Dijkstra directs a splendidly played and beautifully recorded performance. However,
unless you are a German speaker you will be buying the third and fourth CDs
in the set for nothing.