HERREWEGHE'S UPBEAT TEMPOS PLUS FOUR OUTSTANDING SOLOISTS MAKE THIS 1989 RECORDING STILL ONE OF THE BEST AVAILABLE! (A re-release at a more reasonable price.)
The composition of the Christmas Oratorio by J.S.Bach((1685-1750)is estimated to be around 1734. This is more than the usual series of six self-contained cantatas for the Christmas period as there are many unifying factors at work. The most obvious is the Evangelist's narrative, which is based on the Gospel readings for the season; the six commemorative days are: First Day of Christmas (Luke 2: l,3-7) - Second Day of Christmas (Luke 2: 8-14) - Third Day of Christmas (Luke 2: 15-20) - New Years Feast of the Circumcision (Luke 2: 21) -Sunday after New Year (Matt. 2: 1-6) and Epiphany (Matt. 2: 7-12). Bach's librettist (unknown) was careful to give each part its identity, meditating on various aspects of the Christmas Story.
Everything about this recording is first-rate, from the Chorus and Orchestra of the Collegium Vocale to the ourstanding soloists. Herreweghe's tempos are upbeat and he apparently encouraged a 'bright' sound in the orchestra as well as the chorus. There are some exquisitely performed instrumental solos, particularly on violin, oboe, oboe d'amore, flute and trumpet.
The four vocal soloists performed with dramatic intensity displaying familiarity within the realm of Bach. Michael Chance, countertenor, who sang three major arias totaling twenty-one minutes, was perfection as he produced note after 'golden' note. In Part Five there is a hauntingly beautiful trio rendered by Barbara Schlick, soprano, Michael Chance, alto, and Howard Crook, tenor. Peter Kooy's bass solo in Part Five was beyond description in its lovliness.
It was interesting that Herreweghe seemed to give this work a somewhat romantic interpretation. This was quite evident in the individual solos beginning with Chance's first aria "Bereite dich Zion, mit zartlichen Trieben" (Prepare Thyself Zion). Having several other reocrdings of this work with Chance, it is apparent that his interpretation is romanticized and this trend continues throughout the performance, showing up again in Kooy's bass aria "Grofer Herr, O Starker Koenig" (Great Lord, and Mighty King). I loved this approach of Herreweghe's because it's refreshing and not usually heard in this manner!
It's really exciting to have so many excellent renditions of this great and glorious Oratorio, and most of them are worthy of our attention. I have three other recordings of this work, but for me this one wins the blue ribbon.
GRAMOPHONE, (12/1989): "As Evangelist, Howard Crook is clear and forthright, punctuating and inflecting with all the necessary skill of a good story-teller...The countertenor, Michael Chance also turns in a splendid performance; his "Schlafe, mein Liebster" (Part Two) is warm in tone and fervent in spirit and from a technical viewpoint, beautifully controlled...the Dutch bass Peter Kooy has a lightish voice with a pleasing edge to it...Barbara Schlick's aria 'Nur ein Wink von Semen Hhnden' (Part Six) is enchanting, and she sang it radiantly...The voices of Collegium Vocale, Ghent, are pleasingly blended and quite well-diciplined...Herreweghe's Orchestra plays extremely well and there are fine contributions, especially from oboe and horn."
This has to be one of Bach's most melodious, magnificent and surely memorable compositions amidst a multitude of treasures. If you are a 'Bach-a-holic' as I am, you simply cannot live without this music!