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63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christmas Oratorio at its very best., 23 Dec 2004
This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
This might very well be the ultimate recording of the Christmas Oratorio. Orchestra, choir, soloists and conductor are all fabolous. Precise, inspired and vibrant. There really aren't any flaws with this one- it goes straight to the heart.
My largest compliment to Bonney, von Otter, Rolfe-Johnson, Crook and Bär, The Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and not least Sir John.
I will compare this to two other recordings:
If you like your baroque music with a little more meat than in period performances, you should go for Richter's recording and enjoy Fritz Wunderlich as the evangelist. Richter has a more powerful, but also a little more cumbersome sound than Gardiner, but if you can't live without a large choir and traditional instruments, Richter is the one to go for.
Secondly, I will mention the obvious period performance competitor, namely the one from Harmonia Mundi with Rene Jacobs conducting. While that is also a notable account, it is more "puritan" in the presentation and the artistic impression is more dry and academic than with Gardiner. And Jacobs uses the default Harmonia Mundi alto, counter tenor Andreas Scholl, to sing the part of the Virgin Mary. Although he sounds more like a woman than most counter tenors, there is just something wrong with a man singing "Schlafe, mein Liebste". There is nothing to suggest, that Bach didn't use a female contralto for the Christmas Oratorio, so please stop thinking that it is historically correct to have this part sung by a man... it's just plain "Life of Brian" to have the Holy Mother played by a man in falsetto. Take Anne-Sofie von Otter in this recording to hear what a baroque mezzo should sound like in period performance.
Or do like me and get both Richter and Gardiner.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JOHN ELIOT'S CHRISTMAS FAVES, 5 Dec 2007
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
This disc is a bit of an oddity. I can give it a perfectly sincere recommendation, but I think I had better explain myself carefully, and explain exactly what I am recommending.

The spirit of the selection is much what you would expect in a disc entitled `Christmas Treats from JSB' or `Immortal Melodies from The Christmas Oratorio' or something of that sort. Bach's Christmas Oratorio is not an oratorio in the Handelian sense. In the 1730's Bach faithfully turned out a cantata for each Sunday and major feast, but in one particular year he elected to reprocess some of his older music, most of it secular originally, and string the numbers together for the entire festive season under the overall title of `Christmas Oratorio'. Borrowing, adaptation and recomposition of earlier music, sometimes one's own sometimes someone else's, was a standard practice at the time. Nobody saw anything wrong with it, and to this day neither do I. Neither Bach nor Handel can exactly be taxed with lack of original output in astonishing quantities, and it is not as if the recycling of the material was not quite a major task in its own right. The Christmas Oratorio is commonly viewed as a lesser work than the B minor Mass or the St Matthew Passion, and while I probably go along with that view to a certain extent, I don't do so for the reasons I usually see argued. The secular origin of the music is neither here nor there in my opinion - all Bach's music is explicitly written for the greater glory of God. Also, when I see this work compared to its disadvantage with the B minor Mass on grounds of recycling, I have to recall that the B minor Mass itself is made up of recycled material practically from start to finish.

To anyone who does not know the Christmas Oratorio and who may have been put off by any of this foolishness, my own advice is simply to ignore the whole fuss. What you will find in it is a set of Bach cantatas produced to the same astounding standard of inspiration, consistency and workmanship that you will find in any of the others. What makes this disc a one-off is first that everyone has taken advantage of the single series-title to pretend that the Christmas Oratorio is a single work like Messiah or the St Matthew Passion and extract a selection of goodies from it to make a single disc's-worth, leaving out the more workaday and `business' elements, notably recitatives. The engaging oddity to go along with this demotic proceeding is that the style is uncompromisingly severe, almost as if we were dealing with Bach's motets.

Nineteen numbers - solos (plus one with an echo-effect), a duet, a sinfonia and choruses both traditional and composed either wholly or over traditional material by Bach - have been selected. The four standard types of vocal soloist have been given work, and it is probably not a coincidence that there is no counter-tenor in a production like this. 20 years ago the `authentic' movement was starting to relax a little, but the instruments used here are uncompromisingly authentic, and so is the penchant for brisk speeds. By now I am so inured with this way of doing things that I adapt to it naturally, but readers of this notice should perhaps take warning from comments by other reviewers who are not so reconciled to the idiom. For me, the quickstep approach (even in 3-time as in the first two numbers) enhances the sublime sense of a march in Bach's wonderful polyphony, but I'm not you. One thing that ought to be a bonus for any listener is the quality of some of the instrumental work at this pace. I looked to see in particular who was the trumpeter - yes, you've guessed: Crispian Steele Perkins of course.

Given the slight sense of facing in two directions, I can report that the quality of the work is exemplary. All the four main vocal soloists distinguish themselves, and it was a particular pleasure to hear Anne Sophie von Otter so early in her career, especially as she is given the loveliest and tenderest number of all, Schlafe, mein Liebster, surely something to win over the doughtiest opponent of this school of interpretation. I shall also highlight the tenor Hans Peter Blochwitz for the ease with which he overcomes the formidable technical demands of his first two arias - the coloratura of his first test in particular is blatantly instrumental in inspiration, in a way that Handel's, however florid and rapid, just never is.

This issue is obviously not part of Gardiner's recent `pilgrimage' series offering all the cantatas. The 1987 recording is not as beautiful as he is given in the recent sets, but it is perfectly adequate. The liner-note gives the texts with translation, and that is all one basically needs, although some comment on the music itself would have been welcome, as not everyone is familiar with its genesis. There is nothing about the singers either, but there is a picture of Gardiner J E P as he looked 20 years ago, if not more. Also looking out at us in the familiar study is the composer himself. How often, I wonder, have I looked uncomprehendingly at that face and tried to infer from it what are specifically the features of a man possessed of an infinite musical talent. I shall never work that one out, but at least he knew not to hide the talent from us and I can be well satisfied with that.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another brilliant recording from John Eliot Gardiner, 28 Aug 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
The Christmas Oratorio is a bright and brilliant work from the first sound of the timpani and the chorus singing "Christians Be Joyful". Even if you are an atheist, it is hard not to be moved by this thrilling sound. John Eliot Gardiner conducts his Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists with customary skill, the soloists are good, the ensemble singing electric and the orchestra great. I've beginning to think it is hard to go wrong when buying anything from this stable....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christmans Oratorio, 13 Dec 2012
By 
Miss M. Potter "marcia" (england) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
This major work by Bach is magnificent and is worth investigating if you have never heard it. On this recording you get a really excellent performance of this great work.
Bach's Christmas Oratorio consists of six cantatas. Bach has used pieces of the composition before this but he brings everything together as one unified and new work.
The original intention was for performance of each part on a different day during the twelve days of Christmas. The first three parts deal with Christmas itself and the birth of Christ. The fourth deals with the naming of Jesus and the fifth deals with the reactions of King Herod. The final part deals with the visit of the wise men.
The composition opens with the jubilant D major chorus followed by words of the Evangelist from Luke's Gospal.
The whole recording is on period instruments without over the top vibrato on strings and choir.
The sound and balance of everyone in the recording is excellent. This is a great oratorio and an excellent interpretation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars bach delight, 4 Jan 2011
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This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
Having not sung this piece for many years I decided to purchase a recording that I hoped would be true to the composers instructions. This CD is excellent - perfect tempi with soloists, orchestra and chorus all in great form. A good buy
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5.0 out of 5 stars simply superb, 14 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
Have listened to this over and over again. I simply love it. The choral pieces in particular. It's not "car" music, but I do listen to it in the car, some parts are quite, but overall superb quality recording and one that, if you love choral music, or Messiah, you MUST hear this recording.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A most to have, 12 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
An excellent performance and good recording for those that know and live the perfection of Bach's music. And for the Christmas season a most to enjoy
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best., 14 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
Wonderful! This is the recording to buy if you want quality. John Eliot Gardiner incomparable. The notes are worth reading too.
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5.0 out of 5 stars CD, 29 July 2013
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This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
What a bargain price, delivered promptly, in good condition and ready fir me to listen to many times as the choir I sing in are performing it this coming Christmas.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bach Christmas Oratorio., 28 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Audio CD)
A total joy to listen to. Have wanted to acquire this recording for a long time, and was not disappointed.
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