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Bach: Weihnachtsoratorium / Biller, Danz, Genz, Iconomou, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig Thomaner Choir

Bach / Thomanerchor Leipzig / Iconomou
Release Date: 03/27/2012 
Label:  Rondeau Productions   Catalog #: 403435  
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Christoph GenzPanito IconomouIngeborg DanzMartin Petzold
Conductor:  Georg Christoph Biller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus OrchestraSt. Thomas Men and Boy's ChoirLeipzig Thomaner Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BACH Christmas Oratorio Georg Christoph Biller, cond; Martin Petzold ( Evangelist ); Paul Bernewitz, Friedrich Praetorius (treble); Ingeborg Danz (alt); Christoph Genz (ten); Panajotis Iconomou (bs); Leipzig Gewandhaus O & Thomanerchor RONDEAU ROP4034/35 (2 CDs: 151:01 Text and Translation)

This is, in a manner of speaking, Bach’s home team. The Leipzig Thomanerchor, now greatly expanded and almost three centuries Read more removed, was Bach’s own choir. It and its present day partner, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, are two of his city’s most venerable and respected institutions. The choir’s inauguration predates its most revered cantor’s tenure by half a millennium, but the orchestra, per se, was not established until 30 years after Bach’s death. Its precursor, however, came into being as early as 1743, so it’s conceivable that some of its early members did play some of Bach’s music. The orchestra’s collaboration with the choir began at least as early as 1835 when Felix Mendelssohn became its music director and programmed Bach’s music for his concerts. Now it plays weekly concerts with the choir.

Thus, the current cantor, Georg Christoph Biller, has inherited a hallowed tradition, and he has served it well. It’s not surprising that the large choir is not as crisp or as flexible as the elite small choirs, but it is well disciplined and enthusiastic and presents a splendid cathedral ambiance. The Gewandhaus Orchestra is an elite ensemble and sounds like one. The solos are uniformly splendid, and the high trumpets are thrilling. Biller’s direction is apt. He paces the oratorio nicely, avoids extremes, and generates genuine excitement where it is appropriate.

Martin Petzold may not be my favorite Evangelist, but he is effective here. Christoph Genz and Panajotis Iconomou are very good, and Ingeborg Danz is excellent, amply justifying Biller’s decision to use an adult female alto. Her aria, “Schlale, mein Leibster, geniesse der Ruh,” in the second cantata is one of the highlights of the set. I am less enthralled by the terzetto, “Ach, wenn wird die Zeit erscheinen,” in the fifth cantata, where her mature voice seems oddly incompatible with the Thomaner treble Friedrich Praetorius. Praetorius is charming in the echo aria “Flösst, mein Heiland, flösst dein namen” in the fourth cantata. The Thomaner treble Paul Bernewitz sings the echo. Bernewitz is not as impressive in his arias, which again brings to mind the issue of boy soloists, and whether they invite repeated listening. One’s response to this set will depend largely on it.

There’s much to like about this performance if you are looking for a large-choir-with-boys’-voices, modern-instrument version of the Christmas Oratorio. It’s a middle-of-the- pack option, good but less than great. I would certainly rank it above the Gewandhaus’s recent and hectic version with the Dresden Chamber Choir conducted by Riccado Chailly. John Eliot Gardiner still gets the nod.

FANFARE: George Chien
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Works on This Recording

Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Christoph Genz (Tenor), Panito Iconomou (Boy Alto), Ingeborg Danz (Alto),
Martin Petzold (Tenor)
Conductor:  Georg Christoph Biller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra,  St. Thomas Men and Boy's Choir,  Leipzig Thomaner Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1734-1735; Leipzig, Germany 

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