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Bach: Christmas Oratorio / Wilhelm, Stuttgart Hymnus Chorknaben

Release Date: 09/28/2010 
Label:  Hänssler Classic   Catalog #: 98622   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Gisela PohlKrisztina LákiKarl MarkusBerthold Possemeyer
Conductor:  Gerhard Wilhelm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Hymnus Boys ChoirEnsemble 76
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BACH Christmas Oratorio Gerhard Wilhelm (cond); Krisztina Laki (sop); Gisela Pohl (alt); Karl Markus (ten); Berthold Possemeyer (bs); Stuttgarter Hymnus-Chorknaben; Ens ’76 Stuttgart HÄNSSLER 98.622 (3 CDs: 156:51 Text and Translation)

By an unlikely coincidence I happened upon an advertisement touting this release with an undated blurb from the Esslinger Zeitung : “With nearly a hundred youthful voices joined in song, Read more Bach’s Christmas Oratorio never sounded more radiant.” I’m not sure whether that is still a valuable selling point now that “smaller is better” seems to be the motto for Bach performances. Never fear. It also happens that the LP version of this recording, sent to me for my consideration a quarter century ago ( Fanfare 9:5), bore a photo of the Stuttgarter Hymnus Chorknaben in action, and by actual count there were only 60 singers in the choir at the time. But they were all youthful—and male. And, come to think of it, they did sound collectively radiant.

Our expectations have changed since this recording was made in 1983, and while there are those of us who remain unconvinced by the new minimalist dogma, we do recognize that this performance does not accurately replicate Bach’s own. Nonetheless, Hymnus-Chorknaben does represent a longstanding tradition of its own—the boy choir—that antedates Bach’s time. Obviously that tradition evolved over the centuries, but this performance is a testament to its enduring status in the latter part of the 20th century. The choir—boys and young men—was superbly trained and attentive, and it did produce that marvelous cathedral sound. The four soloists, though not as well known in America as in Europe, had distinguished careers, often singing Bach’s music. Karl Markus was a worthy Evangelist, and Krisztina Laki was particularly impressive in her solos. Gerhard Wilhelm, who directed the choir for 40 years before retiring in 1987, fashioned a performance that is traditional in the best sense—attentive to detail but never short on vitality. For listeners who are so inclined, this is a Christmas Oratorio that they can live with very comfortably. For listeners who prefer period instruments and all that goes with them, Gardiner’s Archiv version, made just four years after Wilhelm’s, still holds up well.

FANFARE: George Chien
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Works on This Recording

Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Gisela Pohl (Alto), Krisztina Láki (Soprano), Karl Markus (Tenor),
Berthold Possemeyer (Bass)
Conductor:  Gerhard Wilhelm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Hymnus Boys Choir,  Ensemble 76
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1734-1735; Leipzig, Germany 

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