Notes and Editorial Reviews
Of Bach's four great choral masterpieces, the Christmas Oratorio was the slowest to gain ground. When Jochum's 1973 Philips recording first appeared, the period-instrument movement had barely started, and the chief competition came from the fairly traditional, modern-instrument accounts led by Richter (Archiv) and Münchinger (London). What struck me most favorably about Jochum's performance way back then was the smoothness and solidity of the choral singing, better balanced and more tonally appealing than Richter's female-dominated Munich Bach Choir, and more accurate and robust than Münchinger 's mixture of boys and adults. Taken together with the excellent playing of the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, this was Bach both mellow and
full-blooded, satisfyingly grand and precise yet also easy on the ear. Today, our expectations have changed somewhat, and Jochum's majestic Christmas Oratorio might seem just too old-fashioned and weighty—or, conversely, it might serve as a corrective to the glib, lightweight readings of the modern fundamentalists. The choral singing remains as impressive as ever. Here is a group that gets out all the notes without yowling or struggling, that sounds like an assemblage of individuals rather than a bland, impersonal singing machine, that maintains its polished luster in the face of all musical hurdles. Many of Jochum's tempos are on the deliberate side, especially next to Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi) or Otto (Capriccio), but not really much slower than Gardiner (Archiv) and Harnoncourt (Teldec). More important are the clarity of articulation and the firmness of the rhythms. Jochum was a disciplinarian of the old school who knew how to keep the musical lines supple and expressive. Harsh though it is to say, he makes Ledger (EMI) and even Münchinger sound a bit tentative, and such conductors as Schmidt-Gaden (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi) and Gürtler (Berlin) downright amateurish.
There's a keen pleasure as well in hearing soloists so confident in manner and secure in technique. Tenor Laubenthal is on the thin side (though adequately fluent), but the other three are among the best of all Christmas Oratorio singers. They sing with deep involvement and understanding, coloring their voices in response to the music and text—and they don't fumble a single note. Ameling is fresh and pure, Prey warm and unaffected, Fassbaender rich and thoughtful. We know them as great Lieder singers and superb technicians, but they sound perfectly at home in Bach. Only Richter has a stronger team.
I do like many of the historically informed Christmas Oratorios, and find Gardiner, Jacobs, and Otto particularly exhilarating. Richter's 1965 Archiv recording is nonetheless the one closest to my heart, mostly because of the surpassingly beautiful solo contributions. Jochum has long been another favorite. I used to wish I could combine his chorus with Richter's soloists, but Ameling, Fassbaender, and Prey are estimable artists in their own right and are eminently worth hearing. Unless you absolutely must have Bach at hyperspeed on period instruments, Jochum deserves a hearing.
-- Ralph V. Lucano, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Elly Ameling (Soprano),
Horst Laubenthal (Tenor),
Brigitte Fassbaender (Mezzo Soprano),
Hermann Prey (Baritone)
Tölz Boys Choir,
Bavarian Radio Chorus,
Bavarian Radio Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1734-1735; Leipzig, Germany
Be the first to review this title