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Bach: Christmas Oratorio / De Vriend

Release Date: 07/27/2010 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 76607   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Detlef RothMalin HarteliusKristina HammarströmJörg Dürmüller
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Combattimento ConsortCappella Amsterdam
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 2 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

Displays understanding and affection for the music … a consistently satisfying and invigorating account of this wonderful music.

It may seem strange to begin a CD review by discussing the documentation but it’s right to do so on this occasion since the presentation of this set is such an outstanding feature. The discs are housed in a hardback book that measures approximately 6.25 inches by 8.5 inches. The book itself runs to seventy-six pages and in addition to the full text and English translation you get a lengthy and interesting interview with the conductor, a detailed note about the music and an even more substantial
Read more essay discussing the work in the context of the Lutheran liturgy. This excellent documentation is enhanced by the inclusion of a number of mother-and-child photographs, in black-and-white, by photographer Eddy Posthuma de Boer. I’m also happy to report that the typeface is clear and easy to read, which is not something that one can take for granted these days. The only defect was the absence of a track listing, which I suspect was a printing flaw in my review copy.

Happily, this release doesn’t just stand or fall by the documentation for the performance is of a comparable excellence. Jan Willem de Vriend tells us that he and Combattimento Consort Amsterdam have performed the complete Christmas Oratorio almost every year for the last decade – it’s unclear if Capella Amsterdam, a professional choir, has taken part in all these performances – and certainly there does seem to be a unity of purpose and a sense of teamwork about this recording. I’ve listened to it several times now and I’m struck by its freshness and by the pervading feeing of joy about it. There seems to be a sense of rightness, and the interpretation seems well settled, though never routine. In the course of a performance lasting over two hours one is almost bound to disagree with certain aspects but I have to say that such occasions were few and far between. I thought that the tempo for the opening chorus of the Third cantata, ‘Herrscher des Himmels’, was a bit brisk – though the performers can certainly cope with the pace – but for the most part I felt that de Vriend’s choice of speeds was consistently judicious.

Things get off to the best possible start with a jubilant, festive traversal of the very first chorus, ‘Jauchzet, frohlocket’. The trumpets ring out tellingly, every instrumental and vocal strand is clear, including a nicely judged bass line, and the choir excels. The thirty-two singers – eight to a part, with female altos - sound fresh and eager and both singers and players invest the rhythms with great vitality. By sheer coincidence on the morning that I began to type up this review I caught the opening chorus from Harnoncourt’s new recording. I suspect he is using a larger choir and orchestra but what struck me was how deliberate and emphatic it all sounded. The bass line was heavy, the timpani boomed and the tempo lacked any lift or sense of urgency. The BBC Radio 3 presenter described it as "measured" but I think I’d have said "ponderous". There’s none of that in this Dutch performance and the first chorus proves to be a harbinger of what is to come.

The choral singing consistently gives great pleasure. The chorales are uniformly satisfying. Elsewhere, the chorus ’Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe’ (Cantata II) has an infectious eagerness and they produce a lovely warm sound in ‘Falt mit Danken’ (Cantata IV). They’re bustlingly exultant in ‘Ehre sei dir,Gott, gesungen’ (Cantata V) and launch the sixth cantata joyously.

The orchestral contribution is no less fine. The sinfonia that opens Cantata II lilts irresistibly and the rich sound that the pair of natural horns adds to the mix in the opening chorus of Cantata IV is hugely enjoyable. The obbligato playing is uniformly excellent – sample, for instance, the natural trumpet in the bass aria in Cantata I or the expressive violin in the alto aria ‘Schliesse, mein Herze’(Cantata III).

There is a strong team of soloists. The tenor, Jörg Dürmüller, who I can’t recall hearing previously, impresses as the narrator. He has a fine clarity of delivery and his voice, which is essentially quite a light one, is produced easily, especially at the top. He may lack the sweetness of Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (for John Eliot Gardiner) or the sense of engagement of the incomparable Helmut Krebs (for Fritz Werner) but he’s still a very involving narrator. He and de Vriend pace the recitatives admirably and you feel drawn into the narrative by Dürmüller. He also sings his demanding arias very well.

Detlef Roth is a very satisfying bass. His voice has presence but is also sufficiently agile so that he gives a fine account of that noble aria ‘Grosser Herr’ (Cantata I). He also produces smooth tone for ‘Erleucht auch meine finstre Sinne’ (Cantata V). The soprano has the least to do among the soloists but I enjoyed the singing of Malin Hartelius. In particular I relished the light, silvery tone that she deploys in ‘Flösst, mein Heiland’ (Cantata IV). Her account of this aria is full of charm and I love the way she conveys wide-eyed eagerness when singing the simple but key word "Ja".

Her fellow Swede, the alto Kristina Hammarström, makes a very positive impression. To her fall some of the choicest arias in the whole work and she’s fully equal to their challenges. She’s suitably alert in ‘Bereite dich, Zion’ (Cantata I) and then in the next cantata she delivers ‘Schlafe, mein Liebster’ with warm affection.

As I’ve already indicated, Jan Willem de Vriend directs the proceedings judiciously. He displays evident understanding and affection for the music and leads what I find to be a consistently satisfying and invigorating account of this wonderful music. Since the performance is also captured in excellent sound that is clear yet atmospheric this set earns a very strong recommendation on every count. I’ve enjoyed this recording of Christmas Oratorio enormously and I hope it will brighten your Christmas celebrations also.

John Quinn, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Detlef Roth (Bass Baritone), Malin Hartelius (Soprano), Kristina Hammarström (Alto),
Jörg Dürmüller (Tenor)
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Combattimento Consort,  Cappella Amsterdam
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1734-1735; Leipzig, Germany 
Notes: Composition written: Leipzig, Germany (1734 - 1735). 

Sound Samples

Christmas Day: I. "Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage", (Chorus)
Christmas Day: II. "Es begah sich aber zu der Zeit", (Evangelist)
Christmas Day: III. "Nun wird mein liebster Bräutigam", (Alto)
Christmas Day: IV. "Bereite dich, Zion", (Alto)
Christmas Day: V. "Wie soll ich dich empfangen", (Chorale)
Christmas Day: VI. "Und sie gebar ihren ersten Sohn", (Evangelist)
Christmas Day: VII. "Er ist auf Erden kommen", (Soprano & Bass)
Christmas Day: VIII. "Großer Herr, o starker König", (Bass)
Christmas Day: IX. "Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein", (Chorale)
Boxing Day: X. Sinfonia
Boxing Day: XI. "Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend", (Evangelist)
Boxing Day: XII. "Brich an, o schönes Morgenlict", (Chorale)
Boxing Day: XIII. "Und der Engel sprach", (Chorale)
Boxing Day: XIV. "Was Gott dem Abraham verheißen", (Bass)
Boxing Day: XV. "Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet", (Tenor)
Boxing Day: XVI. "Und das habt zum Zeichen", (Evangelist)
Boxing Day: XVII. "Schaut hin, dort liegt im finstern Stall", (Chorale)
Boxing Day: XVIII. "So geht denn hin, ihr Hirten, geht", (Bass)
Boxing Day: XIX. "Schlafe, mein Liebster, geniße der Ruh", (Alto)
Boxing Day: XX. "Und alsobald war da bei dem Engel", (Evangelist)
Boxing Day: XXI. "Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe", (Chorus)
Boxing Day: XXII. "So recht, ihr Engel, jauchzt und singet", (Bass)
Boxing Day: XXIII. "Wir singen dir in deinem Heer", (Chorale)
Third Day of Christmas: XXIV. "Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen", (Chorus)
Third Day of Christmas: XXV. "Und da die Engel von ihnen gen", (Evangelist)
Third Day of Christmas: XXVI. "Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem", (Chorus)
Third Day of Christmas: XXVII. "Er hat sein Volk getröst", (Bass)
Third Day of Christmas: XXVIII. "Dies hat er alles uns getan", (Chorale)
Third Day of Christmas: XXIX. "Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen", (Soprano, Bass)
Third Day of Christmas: XXX. "Und sie kamen eilend", (Evangelist)
Third Day of Christmas: XXXI. "Schließe, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder", (Alto)
Third Day of Christmas: XXXII. "Ja, ja, mein Herz soll es bewahren", (Alto)
Third Day of Christmas: XXXIII. "Ich will dich mit Fleiße bewahren", (Chorale)
Third Day of Christmas: XXXIV. "Und die Hirten kehrten wieder", (Evangelist)
Third Day of Christmas: XXXV. "Seid froh dieweil", (Chorale)
Third Day of Christmas: XXXVb. "Herrscher des Himmel, erhöre das Lallen", (Chorus)
New Year's Day - "Feast of the Circumcision": XXXVI. "Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben", (Chorus)
New Year's Day - "Feast of the Circumcision": XXXVII. "Und da acht Tage um waren", (Evangelist)
New Year's Day - "Feast of the Circumcision": XXXVIII. "Immanuel, o süßes Wort!", (Bass, Soprano)
New Year's Day - "Feast of the Circumcision": XXXIX. Flößt, mein Heiland, flößt, dein Namen", (Soprano & Echo-Soprano)
New Year's Day - "Feast of the Circumcision": XL. "Wohlan dein Name soll allein", (Bass, Soprano)
New Year's Day - "Feast of the Circumcision": XLI. "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben", (Tenor)
New Year's Day - "Feast of the Circumcision": XLII. "Jesus richte mein Beginnen", (Chorale)
Sunday after New Year's Day: XLIII. "Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen", (Chorus)
Sunday after New Year's Day: XLIV. "Da Jesus begoren war zu Bethlehem", (Evangelist)
Sunday after New Year's Day: XLV. "Wo ist der neugeborne König der Jüden", (Alto)
Sunday after New Year's Day: XLVI. "Dein Glanz all Finsternis verzehrt", (Chorale)
Sunday after New Year's Day: XLVII. "Erleucht auch meine finstre Sinnen", (Bass)
Sunday after New Year's Day: XLVIII. "Da das der König Herodes hörte", (Evangelist)
Sunday after New Year's Day: XLIX. "Warum wollt ihr erschrekken?", (Alto)
Sunday after New Year's Day: L. "Und ließ versammlen alle Hohepriester", (Evangelist)
Sunday after New Year's Day: LI. "Ach, wenn wird die Zeit erscheinen", (Soprano, Alto, & Tenor)
Sunday after New Year's Day: LII. "Mein Liebster herrschet schon", (Alto)
Sunday after New Year's Day: LIII. "Zwar ist solche Herzennsstube", (Chorale)
Epiphany: LIV. "Herr, wenn die stolzen Feine schnauben", (Chorus)
Epiphany: LV. Da berief Herodes die Weisen heimlich", (Evangelist)
Epiphany: LVI. "Du Falscher, suche nur den Herrn zu fällen", (Soprano)
Epiphany: LVII. "Nur ein Wink von seinen Händen", (Soprano)
Epiphany: LVIII. "Als sie nun den König gehöret hatten", (Evangelist)
Epiphany: LIX. "Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier", (Chorale)
Epiphany: LX. "Und Gott befahi ihnen im Traum", (Evanglist)
Epiphany: LXI. "Se geht! Genug, mein Schatz geht nicht von hier", (Tenor)
Epiphany: LXII. "Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schrekken", (Tenor)
Epiphany: LXIII. "Was will der Höllen Schrekken nun", (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass)
Epiphany: LXIV. "Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen", (Chorale)

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