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Christmas! Noel! Weihnachten! / RIAS Kammerchor

Rias-kammerchor / Rademann
Release Date: 10/08/2013 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 902170   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Felix MendelssohnUwe GronostayJohannes EccardMax Bruch,   ... 
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


There is no musical genre more blissfully bound by tradition than that of Christmas music. The reasons for this are many and debatable, but suffice it to say that this “tradition”, built around a once-a-year wintertime celebration of very particular events, hasn’t added much in the way of serious or significant new repertoire since the first half of the 20th century, the last true “hit”—one that’s claimed a solid place in the standard repertoire—being John Rutter’s What sweeter music, written in 1988 for the famous service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge (which, with its annual commissions is one of the few remaining sources of new, quality Christmas choral music).
Read more /> But when this traditional body of repertoire consists of music of such character and quality, from the hundreds of carols to original choral masterpieces, from early chant and Renaissance motets to Bach, Handel, Berlioz, Britten, Poulenc, and, yes, Rutter—not to mention the hugely popular collections of carol arrangements by David Willcocks and others—who can complain? The only problem for today’s choirs, especially those planning a recording of Christmas music, is how to come up with a program that isn’t just like hundreds of others, rehashing the same familiar list of “old” favorites, beginning with “O come, o come Emmanuel” and ending with “Hark! The herald angels sing”.

Hans-Christoph Rademann and his RIAS Kammerchor have successfully avoided that kind of redundancy by organizing their program around a thoughtfully conceived theme—not overtly centered around angels and shepherds, mangers and Magi, but encompassing the symbolism that underpins the Christmas story, particularly regarding darkness and light, arrival and departure, hope, joy, and transformation. And to do that, they selected an array of works, early to modern, that together bring these aspects of the story to life while engaging listeners in the pleasure of world-class choral performances.

Among the 20 a cappella pieces—all with either German or Latin texts—there are a few “old” favorites, but even these are not too often heard, among them Bruckner’s Ave Maria and Virga Jesse, and Sweelinck’s Hodie Christus natus est. Yes, Praetorius’ Es ist ein Ros entsprungen is here (but who can ever tire of this quiet, simple little gem), and instead of the well-loved but truly overused Pearsall arrangement of In dulci jubilo, we are treated to a magnificent and rarely-heard 8-part, double-choir Praetorius version—a fact strangely not mentioned in the notes. Several selections by 16th-century composer Johann Eccard are well worth hearing, and you can’t help but be moved by Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat, among the most powerful settings of this text ever written. No doubt Poulenc’s Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël sound as fresh and modern today as they must have 60 years ago—no composer has more perfectly captured the spirit of these texts, especially, as often as they have been set over the centuries, the O magnum mysterium and Hodie Christus natus est. Grieg’s Ave maris stella is another highlight, from a composer we don’t usually associate with sacred choral—let alone Christmas—music.

Choral aficionados will not have to be reminded of the RIAS Kammerchor’s exemplary credentials, and if you aren’t aware of this choir’s command of ensemble technique and expressive style, you only have to listen to the first few bars of the first track, Mendelssohn’s Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden, to know you’re in the company of one of the world’s first-class choral ensembles. But perhaps the finest single demonstration of this group’s virtuosity is heard in the delicate and subtle nuances of phrasing and dynamic shading, of balance and dead-on intonation in Max Bruch’s motet In der Christnacht—another rarely-heard highlight, as is the setting of the hymn Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen (The night is far advanced) by Uwe Gronostay, a former conductor of the choir. The sound, from the Jesus-Christus Kirche in Berlin, is an ideal match of choir and venue. If you’re looking for a Christmas program that honors the traditional yet is far from ordinary, don’t miss this. Highly recommended.

-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. Anthems (6), Op. 79: no 1, Frohlocket, ihr Volker auf Erden by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1843; Germany 
2. Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen by Uwe Gronostay
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
3. Ich lag in tiefer Todesnacht by Johannes Eccard
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Renaissance 
Written: Germany 
4. Lieder (9) for Chorus, Op. 60: no 1, In der Nacht by Max Bruch
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1892; Germany 
5. Motets (2), Op. 74: no 2, O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1863-1877; Austria 
6. Nun liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit by Johannes Eccard
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
7. Magnificat by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; Germany 
8. Virga Jesse floruit in E minor, WAB 52 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1885; Vienna, Austria 
9. Ave Maria by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: Austria 
10. Salve Regina by Francis Poulenc
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; France 
11. Ave maris stella, EG 150 by Edvard Grieg
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899; Norway 
12. Hodie Christus natus est by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Renaissance 
Written: Netherlands 
13. In dulci jubilo by Michael Praetorius
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1619; Germany 
14. Musae Sioniae: Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen by Michael Praetorius
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1609; Germany 
15. Motets (4) pour le temps de Noël by Francis Poulenc
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951-1952; France 
16. Silent Night by Franz Xaver Gruber
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: Classical 
Written: 1818; Austria 

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