on 4 February 2014
This was the 3rd (& most recent) performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio that I purchased. I donated the other two to charity after I'd watched this one. Herreweghe is totally reliable. He always picks excellent soloists, his tempos are never silly or extreme, he always uses period instruments, and his choral forces are always decently smallish. No other conductor can touch him when it comes to interpreting JS Bach. And I must say that he brought this (to me) hugely familiar work back to new life for me. Excellent sound, excellent picture. The Blu Ray version is worth the bit of extra money.
This disc was recorded during one performance in December 20 2012. This is worth noting because, unlike many 'live' performances, it has not been stitched together from several 'live' performances and is a genuine one-off performance. Bearing that in mind, the recording is remarkably successful by avoiding distractions such as any hint of audience noise or restlessness. Bach intended it to be a continuous work but performed over a period of six days, one for each cantata over the Christmas period. That option may suit many viewers who will be able to choose their listening preferences, but the audience on this occasion clearly found the complete six cantatas performed as one continuous work to be a very satisfying experience and listen with rapt attention throughout.
The accuracy of the playing over such an extended time is also a tribute to the skills of the orchestral players and the singers. The trumpets are worth a special mention as the high lying, and often solo writing, of the lead trumpet is especially demanding and Alain De Rudder plays with apparent and consummate ease. Other orchestral soloists worth a special mention are Christine Busch as lead violin, Marcel Ponseele on oboe and Benoit Laurent on the oboe Da Caccia. All of these play with total surety and with first class tonal control, as indeed, do their colleagues as a group.
The small mixed choir also deliver an excellent performance with well modulated tonal control and well balanced part singing. The four soloists, Dorothee Mields (soprano), Damien Guillon (alto), Thomas Hobbs (tenor) and Peter Kooij (bass) make an excellently balanced group on the rare instances when they sing in partnership with each other, but more particularly as soloists. Thomas Hobbs, as the Evangelist, has the key vocal role, and it would be hard to imagine it being better sung and with more conviction. He enhances his impact by singing directly to the audience without one glance at the printed copy held in his hands.
That sort of close familiarity is apparent with all the performers who must have played and sung this work countless times. They are led by Philippe Herreweghe, who as conductor, is completely undemonstrative but clearly intent and absorbed in his role as director. He has a considerable reputation as a renowned conductor of such period works in particular and both the choir and orchestra were founded by him a very long time ago. This underpins the strong feeling of unity of purpose communicated by this performance.
The camera work is detailed and fully involving without being in any way invasive. The imaging itself is totally crisp with excellent colour rendition. The sound is presented in excellently natural DTS 5.1 and stereo. Subtitles are provided in English, German, French and Japanese. The subtitles, if chosen, only leave the screen during repeated passages. The performance is naturally given in German so subtitles are a tremendous help to viewers unfamiliar with German. The booklet gives the text openings to the 66 separate tracks for easy identification.
This is a distinguished production and I would suggest that it makes a most attractive purchase option for anyone interested in this work.
Some dialogue from the previous comments section that may offer further help:
I entirely agree with you. This is a wonderful performance rendered all the more impressive by the fact that the four soloists also make up the sixteen-strong choir: a phenomenal achievement in terms of sheer vocal stamina. If I were to venture a tiny criticism, it would be that in a work as joyous as this, the dour and unsmiling expressions on the faces of all the participants are in unsettling conflict with the music. Of course, I don't want to see everyone grinning inanely, but some visible sign of the performers' delight in this piece would have made the whole experience a little less like a grimly devotional ritual. (U.K. review)
on 18 December 2013
This is a very nice recording of these 6 cantatas. Very few performers (the choir is only 4 sopranos, 1 alto + 3 countertenors, 4 tenors and 4 basses, and I think there are less than 20 instrumentists). But they are all great. The vocal soloists sing with the chorus in the choral parts.
I think this is a very historically informed performance, first (obviusly) because the instruments are "historical", and second because Bach probably had no more than 40 musicians at his disposal when these cantatas where first performed.
The only "unhistorical thing" is probably that the choir is not a boys choir, but this is not a problem for me: I've enjoyed this recording a lot.
Please excuse my English, English is not my mother tongue.