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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of fervent joy, 25 July 2013
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio): J.S. Bach (Audio CD)
It's hard to believe that this recording is now nearly thirty years old. Originally issued on Erato, it is now available on the bargain Apex label and worth anyone's money.

These are not the names usually associated with great Bach performances but I have rarely heard this inexhaustibly melodic and inventive music played with such evident and high-spirited relish. It does not replace my favourite traditional recording by Karl Richter with its unmatched line-up of soloists (Janowitz, Ludwig, Wunderlich and Crass) but it runs it close for sheer verve and majesty.

I have never heard Barbara Schlick so pure and silvery; indeed, at first I found the similarity of her timbre to Janowitz striking. Kurt Equiluz has a sweet, smallish but expressive tenor and is an old hand in Bach. Carolyn Watkinson's resonant mezzo is very counter-tenorish in timbre with none of the attendant disadvantages you sometimes get with that voice category; she is mellow and totally steady with a splendidly trenchant power register which never sounds plummy. Michel Brodard's "bass" is really a light baritone; he is a very musical and agile even if there is occasionally more than a hint of an aspirate in his divisions - and even Equiluz sometimes stands guilty of that venial sin. They make a fine team, all in all.

The choir is superb: precise and energised in attack, although the resonant recording acoustic robs their diction of some clarity, especially as we are far from the OVPP fad. Best of all, are the conducting of Corboz and the playing of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. "Who?" you might say, but they are delightful: the trumpets marvellously adept and the oboe, oboe d'amore, cor anglais and bassoon all adding a wonderfully smoky, resinous quality to the instrumental accompaniment, which is never lugubrious or treacly. Neither the chorus nor the orchestra is very big, anticipating more modern practice, but they pack plenty of heft when necessary.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HIPster Wars - News from the Bach Front - Communiqué 58, 24 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio): J.S. Bach (Audio CD)
Dawn came to Guyana. Deep in its jungle, the inmates of Hipster-Town were sleeping uneasily on their beds of straw. To the last, they were woken by a crackle from the public-address system. It was Father Melchizedek OP, the High Priest of Period Practice. Bedecked ominously in sunglasses, the cleric was looking worse for wear; a bottle of sweet-sherry was in his barnacled right hand as he spoke into the microphone.

"Sheep of the flock," he whinnied, "the past is best left in the peace of the sepulchre! That's surely the case with most performances of Bach before the revelations of the `Early Music' movement, and especially so with lumbering Neanderthal recording of Bach's Matthew Passion and Mass in B Minor by the likes of Karajan & Klemperer. Just about every antediluvian conductor recorded Bach's choral works with the largest Heldenwhoop und Heldenblare orchestra available. They should be sealed in a museum case as prime evidence of why the efforts to relearn the techniques of Baroque singing and of playing original instruments are absolutely crucial."

He paused to shoo away some mosquitoes from the nearby coast.

"Karajan and Klemperer must have misunderstand the word Mass, thinking of it in physical terms as something heavy to be dragged until all musical energy was converted to square hinders on concert pews. If this is what some people hear as `spiritual' Bach, okay, okay, don't let me spoil it for you. Personally, it sounds conscience-ridden and sanctimonious to me. Besides, the soloists are vilely out of tune most of the time, and if you can't hear the tuning problems, perhaps your ears just aren't skilled at recognizing basic intervals - thirds, fifths, and such. It took centuries to corrupt European vocal technique with constant vibrato and only one generation to purge it. Hallelujah! Still, it all comes to an end TODAY!"

Hysteria took hold of the populace at this point. Enlivened by the terror, the cleric took another swig of grog before continuing:

"Klemperer is coming to denude you of your Bach!" he shrieked. "Rilling, whose conducting is turgid and unperceptive, murky and unstylish, will join him. They and their followers at 440 HZ are the Horsemen of the Apocalypse! Behold, the end of the world is upon us! There's nothing left but mawkishness, apostasy and Death-by-Karajan-Soup! I will facilitate your end - but you must have faith lest damnation come upon you and your seed!"

Screams greeted this announcement. The cleric turned unsteadily to his lackeys: Egulf and Panzer.

"That was a great review," the former squeaked. "Not that I know anything about fine music! Everyone should do as you say!"

The Pro Nuncio of Clipped Phrasing raised his eyes to the heavens. Accustomed as he was to flattery, such sycophancy was an irritant.

"Oh, whatever - and for the last time: stop breathing through your mouth! Do something useful for a change: prepare the vats of Joshua Rifkin! Make sure everyone, young and old, receives a draft of one voice-per-part in the Matthew Passion!"

There was a fourth person in the room - Cato, the trusty manservant. "That's mass-murder!" he protested. "It's inhumane! It's cruel! It's sadistic! What have these people ever done that you should invoke such destruction and slaughter?"

"Après nous le deluge," Father Melchizedek whinnied as he took another swig from his bottle. "Cato, my comely companion, it's time to retire to my private, sound-insulated chambers in wait for the end. As prophesized by St David of Munrow, purification is warranted . . . . . I have an extensive bull-whip collection in my room; let's liven things up! Fetch me a recorder from the conservatory - you know, the one with the long black shaft and dimpled surface . . . . . . . . Yes, join me in my penitential activities, my trusty manservant!"

Upon saying these words, the cleric trotted off. Egulf and Panzer were about to carry out their master's orders when Cato told them unceremoniously to move their lard-arses to the kitchen where a bag of spuds awaited them. Outside the building, Cato could hear the wailing and lamentations of Hipster-Town's inmates: they had taken Father Melchizedek's words to heart and were now seeking oblivion. It was time to act. First, he dead-locked the door that led to the cleric's private-chambers. Second,Cato pulled out a contraband copy of Michael Corboz's 1992 recording of the Christmas Oratorio and played it over the public address system. Its magic worked immediately. Seconds later, Hipster-Town was becalmed. Why so?

Anyone who is aware of Corboz's sterling work in Charpentier's Te Deum and Mozart's Requiem will appreciate his mettle in choral works. Equally, he's in fine form here. If the lodestar of this mighty work (for any non-HIPster) is Karl Richter's recording from 1964, Corboz runs him close in the very least: the grandeur and celestial joy of this masterpiece are given full vent. He is better served by his sound-engineers than his predecessor: if there is such a thing as a warm, digital recording, underwritten by a spacious acoustic, this is it. The choir - Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne - sings with an animation and fervour which puts many a better known choir to shame. Corboz is backed by an able quartet of singers; even if they fall marginally short of their predecessors (Janowitz, Ludwig, Wunderlich and Crass - and Ludwig's performance of `Schlafe, mein Liebster' from Part 2 is life-changing), the gap is marginal. In their own right, they're superb; this is surely Barbara Schlick's greatest exposition of her art.

Above all, this account conveys an immense longing for the Christ-Child and the jubilation at his advent. Even if BWV 248's text had been lost to eternity, Christmas would be unerringly predicated in a performance such as this.

Disaster was averted. As silence and peace enveloped the camp, Cato became aware of another noise in the background: it was the sound of a bullwhip being applied to a bony backside, accompanied by many a groan and whimper: the agony and ecstasy indeed at a higher pitch than 410HZ.
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Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio): J.S. Bach
Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio): J.S. Bach by Michel Corboz (Audio CD - 2009)
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