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Bach: Christmas Oratorio / Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists


Release Date: 10/25/1990 
Label:  Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog #: 423232   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Anthony Rolfe JohnsonAnne Sofie von OtterNancy ArgentaHans-Peter Blochwitz,   ... 
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque SoloistsMonteverdi Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Bach's Christmas Oratorio was compiled for the Christmas church festival at Leipzig for the season of 1734-5. The six cantatas which comprise the oratorio were designed for Christmas Day and the two following days, the Feast of the Circumsion, the Sunday after New Year and the Feast of the Epiphany. The text, by an unidentified author, but very possibly Picander, follows the biblical narrative outline of the appointed readings for the relevant days; but, although this is so and although the six works were performed independently of one another, Bach, nevertheless, aimed at and achieved a continuity which allows us to consider the oratorio as a whole. The means by which he does so are both musical and structural, but above all, perhaps, it Read more is the presence of a narrator, the Evangelist, who gives an account of the story, which provides the strongest link between the components. It is this feature, furthermore, which distinguishes the work from Bach's standard church cantata content, giving it oratorio status. As we know, Bach's self-borrowing in the Christmas Oratorio is extensive, and two secular cantatas in particular, Nos. 213 and 214, provided him with many choruses and arias. Whilst economy of effort doubtless played a part in this, the propriety of the 'parodies' and the high quality of the music itself encourage us to wonder if Bach had this greater destiny in mind at the time of original composition. Examination of primary and secondary texts shows Bach as a consummate master of this widely used baroque practice and at no time does he fail either to meet the conditions of acceptable declamation or to satisfy the requirements of opposite musical-textual imagery.

John Eliot Gardiner is no stranger to this particular type of Bach composition. He has been performing the church cantatas for years and feels a special affection for them. Not surprisingly, therefore, there is a fluency throughout his new recording of the Christmas Oratorio which is both reassuring and, for most of the time, satisfying too. He has a splendid team of soloists, with the tenor Anthon y Rolfe Johnson as the Evangelist. His performance is communicative—in other words he sounds not only as if he is telling a story but also that it matters to him that we understand it; sometimes the voice itself sounds a little husky as, for instance, in the recitative, ''Als sie nun den Konig'' (Part 6), but this is a small matter unlikely to bother listeners overmuch. Olaf Bar makes a wily Herod (Part 6), with declamation full of subtle innuendo; and he gives a fine account of the bass arias throughout. Nancy Argenta and Anne Sofie von Otter have a fresh, lively approach to the music and their performances are articulate and well focused. The tenor Hans Peter Blochwitz is also impressive—I have been enjoying his contribution to a Telemann St Matthew Passion, recently recorded in Germany but not so far issued in the UK. Choral singing is almost invariably a strong feature of Gardiner's performances and that is markedly the case here. The opening chorus of Part 1 is crisp, incisive and declamatory yet not over-emphatic. It is Harnoncourt's laboured, over-insistent strong beats which spoil for me the same movement in his recording of the Christmas Oratorio, recently issued on CD by Teldec. The Monteverdi Choir are characteristically alert and warm-blooded and I particularly enjoyed their singing of the chorales. The orchestral and obbligato playing reaches a very high standard with oboes and flute deserving of special mention; the arioso-chorale ''Er ist auf Erden kommen arm'' (Part 1), ''Schlafe, mein Liebster'' (Part 2) and the tenor aria ''Frohe Hirten'' (Part 2) are just three of many such examples. the two-violin partnership in the tenor aria ''Ich will nur dir Ehren leben'' (Part 4) is also notably successful. I enjoyed too the frequent occasions on which Gardiner allows us to hear the continuo line when the figures call for a degree of highlighting.

The overall standard of performance in this new recording, together with Gardiner's own affectionate view of the work, make me place the issue in an uppermost position amongst recordings presently available. Rhythmically, he sounds more relaxed than I have sometimes found in past performances, and there is an effective instance of this in the soprano aria, ''Nur ein Wink von seinen Handen'' (Part 6). If you insist on a version with modern instruments then that directed by Michel Corboz on Erato is probably the one to go for. He has a fine group of soloists, including Barbara Schlick and Kurt Equiluz. If, on the other hand, you are hidebound by 'authenticity', then Harnoncourt's account with a boys' choir and an all-male cast, which is what Bach himself would certainly have had, might suit you better. But if you like the idea of first-rate singing and playing, irrespective of what Bach had at his disposal, and an interpretation which shows a lively awareness of stylistic issues without making a meal of them, then Gardiner's reading is likely to give you a great deal of pleasure. A copious booklet gives full text in four languages and, unlike Harnoncourt's recording, the work is contained within two CDs rather than three. The recorded sound is clear, though I confess I do not greatly care for it. Sometimes there is a slight but unwelcome buzz around certain of the solo voices. Apart from that, a considerable achievement.

-- Nicholas Anderson, Gramophone [12/1987]
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Works on This Recording

1.
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor), Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano), Nancy Argenta (Soprano),
Hans-Peter Blochwitz (Tenor), Olaf Bär (Bass), Ruth Holton (Soprano),
Katie Pringle (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1734-1735; Leipzig, Germany 
Date of Recording: 01/1987 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studios, London 
Length: 140 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Language: German 
Notes: Composition written: Leipzig, Germany (1734 - 1735). 

Sound Samples

Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.1 Chorus: "Jauchzet, frohlocket"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.2 Evangelist: "Es begab sich aber zu der Zeit"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.3 Rezitativ (Alt): "Nun wird mein liebster Bräutigam"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.4 Aria (Alto): " Bereite dich, Zion"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.5 Choral: "Wie soll ich dich empfangen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.6 Evangelist: "Und sie gebar ihren ersten Sohn"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.7 Chorale: "Er ist auf Erden kommen arm", Recitativ (Bass): Wer will die Liebe recht erhöhn"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.8 Aria (Baß): "Großer Herr, o starker König"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part One - For The First Day Of Christmas: No.9 Choral: "Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.10 Sinfonia
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.11 Evangelist: "Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.12 Chorale: "Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.13 Evangelist, Engel: "Und der Engel sprach zu Ihnen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.14 Rezitativ (Baß): "Was Gott dem Abraham Verheißen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.15 Aria (Tenor): "Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.16 Evangelist: "Und das habt zum Zeichen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.17 Chorale: "Schaut hin, dort liegt im finstern Stall"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.18 Rezitativ (Baß): "So geht denn hin, ihr Hirten, geht"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.19 Aria (Alto): "Schlafe, mein Liebster, geniesse der Ruh"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.20 Evangelist: "Und alsbald war da bei dem Engel"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.21 Chor: "Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.22 Rezitativ (Baß): "So recht, ihr Engel, jauchzt und singet"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Two - For The Second Day Of Christmas: No.23 Chorale: "Wir singen dir in deinem Heer"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.24 Chor: "Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.24 Chor: "Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.25 Evangelist: "Und da die Engel von ihnen gen Himmel fuhren"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.26 Chor: "Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.27 Rezitativ (Baß): "Er hat sein Volk getröst"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.28 Choral: "Dies hat er alles uns getan"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.29 Duett (Sopran, Baß): "Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.30 Evangelist: "Und sie kamen eilend"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.31 Aria (Alt): "Schließe, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.32 Recitativ (Alt): "Ja, ja, mein Herz soll es bewahren"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.33 Choral: "Ich will dich mit Fleiß bewahren"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.34 Evangelist: "Und die Hirten kehrten wieder um"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Three - For The Third Day Of Christmas: No.35 Choral: "Seid froh dieweil"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Four - For New Year's Day: No.36 Chor: "Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Four - For New Year's Day: No.37 Evangelist: "Und da acht Tage um waren"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Four - For New Year's Day: No.38 Rezitativ (Baß): "Immanuel, o süßes Wort" Arioso (Chor-Sopran, Baß): "Jesu, du mein liebstes Leben"-"Komm ich will dich mit Lust umfassen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Four - For New Year's Day: No.39 Aria (Soprano, Echo-soprano): "Flösst, mein Heiland, flösst dein Namen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Four - For New Year's Day: No.40 Rezitativ (Baß): "Wohlan, dein Name soll allein" Arioso (Chor-Sopran): "Jesu mein Freud und Wonne"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Four - For New Year's Day: No.41 Aria (Tenor): "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Four - For New Year's Day: No.42 Choral: "Jesus richte mein Beginnen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.43 Chor: "Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.44 Evangelist: "Da Jesu geboren war zu Bethlehem"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.45 Chor: "Wo ist der neugeborne König der Juden?" - Rezitativ (Alt): "Sucht ihn in meiner Brust"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.46 Choral: "Dein Glanz all Finsternis verzehrt"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.47 Aria (Bass): "Erleucht auch meine finstre Sinnen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.48 Evangelist: "Da das der König Herodes hörte"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.49 Rezitativ (Alt): "Warum wollt ihr erschrecken?"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.50 Evangelist: "Und ließ versammeln alle Hohepriester"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.51 Terzetto (Soprano, Alto, Tenor): "Ach, wann wird die Zeit erscheinen?"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.52 Rezitativ (Alt): "Mein Liebster herrschet schon"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Five - For The 1st Sunday In The New Year: No.53 Choral: "Zwar ist solche Herzensstube"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.54 Chor: "Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.55 Evangelist: "Da berief Herodes die Weisen heimlich" - Herodes: "Ziehet hin und forschet fleißig"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.56 Rezitativ (Sopran): "Du Falscher, suche nur den Herrn zu fällen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.57 Aria (Sopran): "Nur ein Wink von seinen Händen"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.58 Evangelist: "Als sie nun den König gehöret hatten"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.59 Chorale: "Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.60 Evangelist: "Und Gott befahl ihnen im Traum"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.61 Rezitativ (Tenor): "So geht! Genug, mein Schatz geht nicht von hier"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.62 Aria (Tenor): "Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schrecken"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.63 Rezitativ (Sopran, Alt, Tenor, Baß): "Was will der Hölle Schrecken nun?"
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 / Part Six - For The Feast Of Epiphany: No.64 Choral: "Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen"

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