Boyd Pehrson wrote (January 111, 2002):
The recent Christmastide season provided me the opportunity to play some Christmas music CDs. One of these is titled "Christmas with the Vienna Boys' Choir" conducted by Peter Marschik. It is an inexpensive LaserLight CD, and ubiquitous in availability. The odd thing is that the two concerts on this CD are of Mozart's "Krönungsmesse" in C minor (KV 317) and Bach's Cantata "Ich Hatte Viel Bekümmernis" (BWV 21). These are not what I would instantly call "Christmas" compositions. But, this is Christmas with the Vienna Boys' Choir, and if they choose these two compositions to celebrate Christmas, who am I to argue? Indeed these were recorded in Rastatt and Strasbourg during November of 1993, and so perhaps it was the Vienna Boys' Choir's gift to the Advent season to record these. The Bach Cantata has the words designated by Bach "per ogni tempo" meaning for any occasion. Mozart composed the Coronation Mass in Salzburg for Easter Day Church Service, April 1779. Christmas traditions such as singing Handel's Messiah with its "King of Kings" chorus may help us to see the Coronation Mass with the eyes of Christmas where Three Kings, Good King Wenceslas, and the King of Kings all have significance. This also reminds me very much of Mozart's Missa Solemnis: "Waisenhaus-Messe" (KV 139) which was written for an orphanage boys' choir during Advent season by a 12 year old Mozart. There are no liner notes on this budget CD, so remains the mystery of what these two compositions may have to do with the Advent season. Otherwise one may present both compositions as sacred material, and thus available for presentation on any religious occasions.
Regarding the performances, both use boy soprano and alto soloists from the Vienna Boys' Choir. I'll focus on the Bach portion of the CD, though the Mozart is competently handled, and the solos are well sung by both the boys and the gentlemen. Benjamin Schmidinger as boy soprano performs the famous Mozart Agnus Dei with a delicate assurance. Tenor is well delivered by Michael Knapp, and Ernst Jankowitsch sends out a moving bass. The Mozart choruses are sung with élan as is expected with the Vienna lads. The only problems I hear are the solos and some choral moments are lacking that completely assured delivery that brings the performance home. Guido Mancusi is credited as the chorus master. This recording perhaps marks a subtle turn in the traditionally outstanding quality of the Vienna Boys Choir. There are as well some unfamiliar undulations or pulses employed by conductor Marschik in the Mozart that I am not used to.
The Bach Cantata features boy soprano Stefan Preyer and boy alto Albin Lenzer. Master Preyer produces a rich tone quality peculiar to the Vienna Boys' Choir- a production of beautiful ringing tone that has a head quality even down in the chest register. There are however moments with Master Preyer when he sounds as though he is not singing to full potential, some tepidness and a bit of dropping off on phrases shows a laxity in direction or training. The alto boy sings with less tone production and nearer to a bel canto style, unlike the traditional fully formed tone that the Vienna Boys are normally trained to deliver. This truly marks a turn for the choir, and the Vienna Boys' Choir has not sounded better since.
Now the individual sections of the Cantata BWV 21 performance certainly have several fine moments. Marschik conducts the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra with a former VBC choir director, George Stangleberger, suppling keyboard work on the organ and harpsichord. There is a decent attempt at baroque playing by the modern instrument ensemble; and a harpsichord along with boys' voices brings baroque atmosphere throughout. Modernity brings wobbly cellos and higher pitch, but the vocal range is thus lowered for the boys, bringing them into a delightful and flexible mid range full of chest resonance, and relieving any glassing out at the very top notes. In this respect the three Chorales especially that of movement 9, "Sei nun wieder zufrieden" sparkles freshly. In movement 9 the musicality in the opening soprano and tenor dialogue, set against ascending and descending notes in triple meter, makes it very fun to listen to, and the singers are brought to their best. Soprano Stephen Preyer sings from the heart, and gives out an expressive treatment connecting well with his tenor counterpart. The listener is not as fortunate with the famous soprano/ bass duet of movement 8 "Komm mien Jesu," where soprano Preyer flags in emotion, and leaves the bass soloist to carry the text's weight. The modern aspect does cause a banality to creep into tenor aria in movement 5, "Bäche von gesalznen Zähren" where smooth violins will not attack the sensibilities of modernists, but may bore lovers of old instruments and old playing methods. Chorale movement 6, "Was betrübst du mich, meine Seele" shows the best possible baroque face in this recording, and the best combination of historical and modern performance practice produced. This is a carefully handled performance by Marschik, quite reserved and straightforward. He drives cautiously through the Cantata. The reward at the end is a safe arrival. The final Chorus shows good solos among all and Bach's use of Handel's style compliments a careful if not benign conductor who upon final approach brings a smooth climax among the trumpeting and drums.
All told, this CD won't tax anyone's ideas about how Bach should be played. It will please the middle of the road types who recoil at ideological enthusiasm. It is a great little CD for the price, which I believe is at or under $5 US, so it won't tax the listener's pocket. While these two performances would be adequate fare for a sacred
church service, the concert stage would bring a more
critical evaluation. I would rate it 7/10.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Mass C major, KV 317
Johann Sebastian Bach "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis,"
Cantata BWV 21
Conductor: Peter Marschik
Vienna Boys Choir, Chorus Viennensis,
Chorus Master: Guido Mancusi.
Stefan Preyer, Soprano; Albin Lenzer, Alto;
Michael Knapp, Tenor; Ernst Jankowitsch, Bass.
Label: Delta - #12347
Audio CD (May 3, 1994)
Katia Tiara wrote (January 13, 2003):
[To Boyd Pehrson] Just to let you know, this recording has been issued in 1994 originally under the simple and not misleading title "Mozart. Bach" - so, no reference to Christmas at all. Probably a strange marketing trick? Or are they just unable to think anything than "Christmas" when a boyschoir is involved? :-/
Larry Ford wrote (January 13, 2003):
[To Boyd Pehrson & Katia Tiara] I too have that CD. I purchased it as part of a two CD package a couple of years ago. The companion CD was titled "Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir." I was also surprised (but not disappointed) at the selections on the WSK disc. Nevertheless I enjoy both CD's with the added bonus that the WSK disc can be enjoyed year round. :-)
Boyd Pehrson wrote (January 14, 2003):
[To Katia Tiara] Thanks Katia, I went to Aryeh's site to look up the CD information- it looks like it was originally released on Capriccio: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV21.htm
I guess Christmas and Boys' Choir are inseparable in some minds :-)
For members that have not visited Aryeh's great Bach site- I highly recommend spending the day there!