Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bach's Christmas Oratorio not only contains some of his most inspired, exuberant music, but also features introspective arias that rival those in the cantatas and passions for sheer melodic invention and poignancy. I couldn't think of a better way to crown Hänssler's Edition Bachakademie than with this very work. It was recorded live, appropriately enough, on the last Christmas Day of the 20th century (patching sessions took place six days into the new millennium). Right at the start of the opening chorus, the heaven-storming timpani, joyous brass licks, and scampering 16th notes from the strings promise, and indeed deliver, a knockout performance on every level. Time and again you'll be bowled
over by the sharp rhythmic character, textural clarity, and organic feeling for drama Rilling elicits from his wonderful musicians. The conductor has significantly re-thought this score since his 1984 recording (also on Hänssler). Tempos, for the most part, have picked up, and phrasing is less anchored toward bar lines. What's more, Rilling no longer employs the harpsichord among the contingent of continuo instruments in Bach's sacred music. There are plausible historical reasons to do so, yet I do enjoy how harpsichord flourishes provide extra harmonic underpinning and commentary during recitatives.
Rilling's soloists stand out for their youthful aplomb, effortless navigation of Bach's challenging passagework, and impressive soft singing. James Taylor's lyrical Evangelist, for instance, contrasts with Peter Schreier's more overt, dramatized reading in the earlier set. Yet both conceptions are equally valid. The sound on the new set, though, is closer and more impactive. There are, to be sure, plenty of excellent Christmas Oratorios in the catalog, and some squeeze the work onto two rather than the three discs Rilling requires. But any interpretation as well thought out, supremely accomplished, and uplifting as this one adds up to a bargain at any price. Don't miss this truly great recording. [Editor's Note: This set is also available through the Musical Heritage Society, Cat. #5359277, containing a bonus interview with Helmut Rilling in which he discusses his approach to Bach and the complete Bach Edition.]
Works on This Recording
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Bass),
Marcus Ullmann (Tenor),
Ingeborg Danz (Alto),
Sibylla Rubens (Soprano),
James Taylor (Tenor)
Stuttgart Bach Collegium,
Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
Written: 1734-1735; Leipzig, Germany
Length: 155 Minutes 0 Secs.
Notes: Composition written: Leipzig, Germany (1734 - 1735).
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