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Bach, JS : Weihnachtsoratorium [Christmas Oratorio] (DAW 50)
 
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Bach, JS : Weihnachtsoratorium [Christmas Oratorio] (DAW 50)

1 May 1991 | Format: MP3

£7.99 (VAT included if applicable)
Also available in CD Format
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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 1 May 1991
  • Release Date: 1 May 1991
  • Label: Warner Classics International
  • Copyright: 2007 Warner Classics & Jazz, Warner Music UK Ltd
  • Record Company Required Metadata: Music file metadata contains unique purchase identifier. Learn more.
  • Total Length: 2:33:50
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B002YSLW30
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 207,985 in MP3 Albums (See Top 100 in MP3 Albums)

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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Richard Ashton on 14 Dec 2012
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Fine performance and recording but no text. Great if you want some background music, no good if you you want to follow. Now I'm going to have to buy another version, just for the words. Grrr.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Harnoncourt's First *Christmas Oratorio* Still Worth Considering 18 Aug 2010
By Johannes Climacus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Harnoncourt's 1972 recording of Bach's *Christmas Oratorio* was, I believe, the first period performance practice version; it was in any case the first such recording of the work I heard as a young adult. I remember the stir it caused when I was an undergraduate music major; opinions were sharply divided between the traditionalists, who favored operatic soloists, large mixed choir, and modern instruments (such as one finds in the Richter and Jochum versions), and those who had begun to make the "paradigm shift" to period instruments, all-male choirs (including boys), specialist singers who eschewed vibrato and the "long line," etc.

From today's perspective, Harnoncourt's first recording sounds quite comfortably traditional in its favoring of moderate tempos, a meditative approach to the more reflective arias and ensembles, and utilization of an all-male chorus and period orchestra of fairly ample proportions (at least compared the latterly fashionable minimalist forces).

It remains an excellent recorded version of the work, and no prospective purchaser should demur on account of its relative age and what might be considered out-of-date musicology. Even at this stage of his career, Harnoncourt could be eccentric in choice of tempo, phrasing, rhythmic articulation, and dynamics; thus it's not surprising to hear him lean on the first beat of every measure in the triple-meter choruses, for instance, or to encounter the surprisingly broad tempos (along with long stretches of legato phrasing) he adopts for "Herrscher des Himmels" (the opening movement of Part III), or for "Nur ein Wink" (the soprano aria in Part VI). But such idiosyncrasies are relatively few, and at times even charming--reminiscent, perhaps, of a more innocent age of historical performance practice enamored with the joy of discovery rather than the cult of virtuosity or doctrinaire adherence to established conventions.

The contribution of the choir--a composite of the Wiener Sängerknaben and the Chorus Vienniensis is robust, bracing and articulate. They are particularly effective in the jubilant chorus that opens Part I, the defiant "Herr wenn die stolzen Fiende schauben" with which Part VI begins, as well as the rustic measures of "Fallt mit loben" from Part IV. Their diction, rhythmic precision and intonation, though hardly perfect, are better than average for such groups. Don't expect the hair-trigger accuracy of Gardiner's Monteverdi choir. The three adult soloists--Equiluz (who sings both the role of the Evangelist and the tenor arias), Nimsgern, and Esswood (a counter-tenor rather than a contralto or mezzo)--offer outstanding musicianship and solid vocalism. They are always attentive to the affect of the text and unafraid to sing with full-throated tone; no pallid voices here. Equiluz could sometimes be hyper-precise in his diction and articulation of text-rhythms (one critic at the time accused him of "cackling"); but few tenors have given a more involving and ear-pleasing account of the Evangelist in this work. He's also enchantingly nimble in his Part II aria, "Frohe Hirten." Nimsgern's gorgeous, rich-toned baritone voice (he was a noted Wagner singer, though by no means out of his depth in "early music") is intelligently employed throughout; his is one of the most lyrically satisfying accounts ever recorded of "Grosser Herr," and its introductory arioso. He is less fussy (and stentorian) than Fischer-Dieskau on the Thomas and Ledger recordings, and more flexible than Franz Crass for Richter--to name two of his strongest competitors. Not every listener will fancy hearing a countertenor rendition of the famous "Cradle Song" from Part II; yet Esswood had one of the most pleasing voices among his brethren of that persuasion, and his deeply expressive singing is intensely moving as one might wish in "Schlafe, mein Liebster" and Part V arioso-exchanges with chorus. He never hoots or whines, and even rivals some well known contralto/mezzo soloists in modern performance practice versions.

At this stage of his career, Harnoncourt was adamant that casting a boy soprano in the arias for that range was the most "authentic" option; he has evidently changed his mind since then--perhaps as a result of re-hearing recordings such as the one under consideration here. With the best will in the world (and a fair amount of musical talent besides), the anonymous chorister from the Wiener Sängerknaben on this recording is clearly challenged to sustain line and pitch in Bach's cruelly demanding soprano arias. The "Echo Aria" from Part IV fares best--probably because of the fact that the echo effects afford plenty of opportunities to catch a breath. Elsewhere the effort to negotiate Bach's florid passagework without breaking the line is more evident. I wouldn't say this chorister's uneven contribution unduly compromises what is otherwise an excellent version of the Christmas Oratorio, but listeners allergic to boy soloists are hereby warned.

As usual, the Concentus Musicus can be counted on for intelligent and incisive, if not consistently refined, ensemble playing. The all-important wind obbligati are rendered with attractively pungent tone and supple phrasing. The brass playing is a bit rough at times--as it could be at this point in the retrieval of period instrument performance practice--but nowhere does their contribution fall below an acceptable standard. Most importantly, Harnoncourt's affection for the music is evident in every bar, and his instrumentalists consistently catch that enthusiasm.

I have not heard Harnoncourt's recent (digital era) re-recording of the work, with mixed choir (the superb Arnold-Schönberg-Chor) and a very different generation of vocal soloists (not all of whom could be classified as "early music specialists"). However, it received uniformly positive reviews in the literature and most critics preferred it to the version under consideration here. Nevertheless, the earlier recording is worth considering at reduced price; it is a delightfully bluff, at times irresistibly charming, performance; perhaps a bit creaky at times, but always conveying the frisson of a fresh discovery. I welcome its return in a warm and cleanly focused remastering (even if the strings sound a bit dryer than I remember them from my now-ancient LPs). Cordially recommended both to neophytes and to anyone nostalgic for the halcyon days of the "early music" movement.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Still My Favorite Recording Of The Christmas Oratorio 30 Oct 2012
By Mark E. Stenroos - Published on Amazon.com
I first encountered this recording during my college years. In fact, the LPs were a gift from one of my music history professors who knew that I was becoming a Harnoncourt fan. The LPs were presented in a beautiful red box with gorgeous cover art. Best of all, the LP set included the complete Bach Gesellschaft version of the conductor score. Luxury packaging to be sure!

The performance is both idyllic and energetic, and the recorded sound is terrific. I prefer the sound of the Vienna Boys Choir on this recording to the English boy sound, which is a bit hoot-y for my tastes. The soloists are well-known quantities, and the orchestra plays with distinction if not with the facility (read: excellent intonation) that original instrument bands have achieved over the decades since this landmark recording was first issued. Those with vivid imaginations can pretend that the less-nuanced playing is closer to what Bach probably heard when he led his own performances.

This recording barely edges out Karl Richter's classic 1965 recording of the piece for top honors (IMO), though the strengths of these two recordings are very different. I'd put Jochum's 1973 Philips recording as a close third choice.

Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Exceptional 13 Jan 2012
By Hari - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
One of the best performances of this music with exceptional quality of audio. Bach's Christmas Oratorio directed by Harnoncourt is performed the way it was meant at the time it was written. The individual performances are outstanding and all the solos performed by male voices the way it was originally scored by Bach. One of the best, if not the best recording of the Christmas Oratorio.
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