Recordings/Discussions
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Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248
General Discussions - Part 6

Continue from Part 5

Christmas oratorios

Doug Cowling wrote (December 23, 2004):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< As I understand it after a slow start the Messiah took the UK by storm and it became associated with Christmas in the 18th Century. In addition, in contrast with Handel's other religious oratorios, Messiah was increasingly played in churches big and small instead of concert halls: the work was viewed, from an early period, in other words, as more religious than dramatic. >
I think I discovered Messiah's link with Christmas a few years ago when I was researching for the script I wrote for the Classical Kids' CD, "Hallelujah Handel!" - a dramatized introduction to the life and music of the composer for children.

Messiah originally had no connection with Christmas whatsoever. Like Handel's other oratorios, it was written to be performed in the theatre during Lent when opera was prohibited. Actually, Messiah was controversial because, unlike Handel's other oratorios which had poetic libretti, it quoted the words of Scripture directly. There were many who thought that it was inappropriate at best to sing scripture in the theatre and disapproved of the work's close structural layout to the typical Chapel Royal anthem The Bishop of London was particularly exercised and banned the performance of the work in churches.

The ban existed for several decades but had had certainly falllen into disuse within Handel's lifetime. The interesting fact is that Messiah's popularlity became linked very early with the philanthropic work of the Foundling Hospital, the city's first orphanage. Handel recognized that he had a cash cow on his hands and in his will gave his score and parts to the the orphanage in order that they could fund-raise.

The sentimental link between Messiah and orphans struck a chord in English hearts which has lasted to this day. It was only a matter of time before the prohibitions against the work during Advent faded away and 19th century choral societies made Messiah an annual fixture because the music, Dickensian children and Christmas all became inextricably linked.

Alas, the Christmas Oratorio which in many ways is a superior work in its dramatic structure, infinite variety of styles and genres, incomparable orchestration and popular "tunes" has never been able to dislodge Messiah from its primacy.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 24, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< Alas, the Christmas Oratorio which in many ways is a superior work in its dramatic structure, infinite variety of styles and genres, incomparable orchestration and popular "tunes" has never been able to dislodge Messiah from its primacy. >
I wouldn't be here if I didn't consider Bach's musical inspiration to stand alone among composers. And the Christmas Oratorio is a splendid example of Bach at his best. (And I like a lot and play it a lot.) But I would not give it primacy over Messiah. They are very different. And, for whatever reason, Handel, under any circumstances a wonderful composer, rose above himself with the Messiah. It is a formidible masterpiece in every way. For what it's worth, Handel got the attention of the great Vienna classical set to a greater degree than Bach. Haydn was delighted with Handel's oratorios. Mozart reworked Messiah to make it more "modern." (Malcom Sargent's performance uses Mozart's improvements I think, and it's good.) And, let's not forget the obvious, it's in English. I would let others on the list inform us on whether Messiah has the same place in Europe as it does in the UK or its English former polictical children. Frankly, I'd be suprised if it did.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 24, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] Actually, Doug, most of Handel's oratorios had Biblical texts or texts inspired by Biblical stories. That is the nature of Oratorio vs. Opera, which does have poetic texts.

The controversy was rather about the venue (Dublin rather than London) and the artists (Thomas Arne's sister, who was involved in a great scandal).

Another issue about Messiah was the same issue that Bach faced with the reception of his Matthaeuspassion--It was deemed to secular for religious performance and too religious for secular audiences.

John Pike wrote (December 24, 2004):
[To Eric Bergerud] I agree with both these comments. Both works are towering masterpieces. I slightly prefer the XMO myself but couldn't be without either of them. I think Messiah is far more popular in the UK than other European countries.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 24, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Actually, Doug, most of Handel's oratorios had Biblical texts or texts inspired by Biblical stories. That is the nature of Oratorio vs. Opera, which does have poetic texts. >
Only 'Messiah' and 'Israel and Egypt' quote the King James Bible. That was the source of the controversory. The notion of opera stars, and particularly women, singing biblical texts in the theatre was deeply offensive to some puritans. In fact, the opinion against scripture on stage survived well into the 20th century through the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain's office. The other oratorios are poetic dramatizations of the biblical stories. For instance, the ever-popular "See, the Conquering Hero Comes" is from "Joshua" and definitely not a biblical text. 'Messiah' and 'Israel in Egypt' are odd men out among Handel's oratorios. They are not dramatic -- in the sense of having characters and plot -- and are really gigantic anthems in their dependence on choral movements. Their models are ultimately the Anglican tradition of the Chandos anthem not the Italian opera. Interestingly, they are the only two oratorios which are regularly performed. Robert King was the first conductor to record "Joshua" which is full of fabulous music.

Getting back to Bach, I would say that contemporary taste continues to lean towards works which are dominated by the choir. Thus works such as the St. John Passion and the Mass in B Minor which have a high ratio of chorus to solo movements -- like Messiah -- remain extremely popular, while oratorios such as Solomon or Saul are rarely performed. The comparative rarity of peformances of the the St, Matthew probably has more to do with the formidable costs of prodcution.

Thomas Shepherd wrote (December 25, 2004):
Christmas Eve:

Between the Children's Christingle Service and the 1st Communion of Christmas Day at midnight, I've to finish a sermon. And while doing this I'm listening to Schutz "Historia der gebut Jesus Christi"(Christmas Oratorio). I studied this for 'A' level Music thirty odd years ago, and its the same vinyl record that I listen to every year at this time. Hans Grischakat conducting the Schwabischer Singkreis and Orchestra - a Turnabout record of 1967. I'm sure there are more HIP recordings since but I love this gentle exposition of a fabulous and intimate work. Its a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve in the study!

Tomorrow Bach and a cantata or two and the first part of the Christmas Oratorio.

A most blessed, peaceful and blessed Christmas to you all.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 25, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] Actually, "See, the conq'ring hero comes" is from Judas Maccabeus, which (in the Catholic Church) is based on Biblical texts (the first and second books of Maccabees).

Although Oratorios in general do include poetic texts, that does not mean that they are entirely poetic. They are, to one extent or another, based on Biblical texts. The possible exceptions to this are Judith, The Triumph of Time and Truth, Il Moderato..., and Samson (which, according to most sources I have read, is based on a poem by Milton). The others, however, from what I have read, are based eion Biblical texts or (in cases like the Brockes-Passion) on texts inspired by Biblical stories. Therefore, they still had their place in tne church.

Also, I never said that Oratorios did not include poetic sections. What I said was that Oratorios were not poetic. They were Bibilical or inspired by Biblical stories. Just because a text includes some poeitc sections does not mean that it is entirely poetic. Look at Bach's Passions, for instance (which have some poetic numbers [the Arias and some of the Choruses]), but that does not make the texts any more Biblical, especially since well over half of the sections of the texts are Biblical passages.

The scandal about Bach's Passions was not the texts, but how he treated them. Namely, the seemingly operatic style he utilized in his scoring. This was also the same situation with Handel's Oratorios.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 25, 2004):
[To Thomas Shepherd] Do you know of any Dresden-ensemble recordings of this work? I looked at the "Heinrich Schütz: Geistliche Werke" with Rudolf Mauersberger (the brother of Thomaskantor Erhard Mauersberger) conducting the Kreuzechor Dresden, but, whilst they have all the Passiontide and Easter works, they do not have a recording of the Weinachtshistoria.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 26, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Handel used "See, the Conquering Hero" twice in "Joshua" and "Judas Maccabeus".

We have to make a careful distinction between the liturgical situations of Bach and Handel. The Church of England in the 18th century did not permit oratorios in its services. Outside of settings of the Book of Common Prayer texts (such as the Te Deum and Jubilate), the only concerted music was the anthem which did not have narrative: the Chandos Anthems are Handel's contribuition to this genre. Handel intended his oratorios to be performed in the opera house during Lent when opera and plays were prohibited. Nearly all of Handel's oratorios were loosely based on biblical stories and, although alluding to scriptural passages, set them in poetic metre. 'Messiah' and 'Israel in Egypt' presented a different aspect to the ecclesiastical authorities.

Here were the actual words of scripture sung in a place of secular entertainment and by women. In the eyes of the Bishop of London, oratorios were tainted by the theatrical association and he banned their performance in churches. No less a literary giant than Jonathan Swift who was dean of the Anglican cathedral in Dublin forbade the participation of his choirboys in the first performance of 'Messiah' precisely because of the use of unparaphrased scripture. To such men this was singing church music in the theatre (they didn't have the same objections to the oratorios in poetic guise)

The liturgical situation in Bach's churches was totally different. There the musical setting of the Passion and Nativity narratives survived the Reformation. All of Bach's oratorios are liturgical church music. The interesting thing about Bach is that he didn't like the contemporary taste for putting all of the biblical narrative into verse but kept the biblical prose of the recitatives and the poetic verse of the arias quite separate. So separate in fact that he wrote the Evangelist part in the Matthew Passion in a different colour ink. The performance of an oratorio in a theatre would have been unthinkable and probably scandalous for Bach.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 26, 2004):
[To Thomas Shepherd] Paul McCreesh and company do a wonderful Christmas Oratorio on their Christmas Vespers CD among several other Schutz works. I also give a thumbs up to Venetian Chirstmas which highlights Gabrieli. Sixty odd years and a few hundred miles apart, but so very different. I know McCreesh has his critics but I like everything I've heard coming from the Gabrieli Players.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 26, 2004):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Paul McCreesh and company do a wonderful Christmas Oratorio on their Christmas Vespers CD among several other Schutz works. >
This is an excellent performance but even more valuable for Bach lovers as it gives one a sense of the liturgical context for the various sections of the Christmas Oratorio.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 25, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< We have to make a careful distinction between the liturgical situations of Bach and Handel. The Church of England in the 18th century did not permit oratorios in its services. Outside of settings of the Book of Common Prayer texts (such as the Te Deum and Jubilate), the only concerted music was the anthem which did not have narrative: the Chandos Anthems are Handel's contribuition to this genre. Handel intended his oratorios to be performed in the opera house during Lent when opera and plays were prohibited. Nearly all of Handel's oratorios were loosely based on biblical stories and, although alluding to scriptural passages, set them in poetic metre. 'Messiah' and 'Israel in Egypt' presented a different aspect to the ecclesiastical authorities. >
Actually, the "Jubilate" would have been viewed as scandalous in Anglican servvices, as the text and context is for Catholic services. The same for the "Te Deum". Remember Handel's principal employers in England were of German Evangelical stock.

< Here were the actual words of scripture sung in a place of secular entertainment and by women. In the eyes of the Bishop of London, oratorios were tainted by the theatrical association and he banned their performance in churches. No less a literary giant than Jonathan Swift who was dean of the Anglican cathedral in Dublin forbade the participation of his choirboys in the first performance of 'Messiah' precisely because of the use of unparaphrased scripture. To such men this was singing church music in the theatre (they didn't have the same objections to the oratorios in poetic guise) >
Here, you have things mixed up again. The problem in Dublin was not the music, but the participants. He (Swift) objected to "Opera performers" performing religious music, the more so because one of the chief soloists was the sister of Thomas Auguste Arne, who had made a great scandal of herself before going to Dublin. The Evangelicals and the Anglicans were amongst the first to incorporate Oratorios into Liturgical services. The Catholics did not do so until either the latter 18th century, the 19th century, or the 20 century (I am not sure which).

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 25, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
"Actually, the "Jubilate" would have been viewed as scandalous in Anglican servvices, as the text and context is for Catholic services. The same for the "Te Deum""
"Jubilate" and "Te Deum" were not scandalous in Anglican services! They are Mattins Canticles as laid down in the Book of Common Prayer.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 26, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Here, you have things mixed up again. The problem in Dublin was not the music, but the participants. He (Swift) objected to "Opera performers" performing religious music, the more so because one of the chief soloists was the sister of Thomas Auguste Arne, who had made a great scandal of herself before going to Dublin. The Evangelicals and the Anglicans were amongst the first to incorporate Oratorios into Liturgical services. The Catholics did not do so until either the latter 18th century, the 19th century, or the 20 century (I am not sure which). >
I think we best review both the liturgical traditions of the Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican churches, as well as the history of the orartorio in genera/.

The dramatic singing of the Passion gospels in Holy Week was established in the Catholic rite in the high middle ages with Matthew on Palm Sunday, Mark on Monday, Luke on Tuesday and John on Good Friday. Cobegan to write polyphonic setting of the various character and crowd speeches by the late middle ages. Byrd, Victoria and Lassus all wrote polyphonic settings. This tradition continued after the Reformation only in the Lutheran church and then only on Good Friday. By the time of Bach, the scriptural narrative had been embellished with chorales and poetic arias. In addition, the dramatic singing of the Christmas narrative which was a German catholic tradition continued after the Reformation with major settings by Schutz and Bach. The singing of the Passions did not survive the Reformation in England, although the oldest surviving polyphonic setting is English. The Anglican church has never had passions or oratorios in its liturgy. The chanting of the Passion to plainsong was revived in the 20 the century.

The oratorio proper was first developed as a devotional exercise by the Oratorian order in Rome in the early 17th century -- hence the name "oratorio". These were not part of the liturgy but were poetic libretti set to a mix of operatic and church styles. Carissimi's "Jeptha" is probably the best example. Vivaldi's "Jeptha Triumphans" and Handel's "La Resurresion" are the great examples of this tradition. At no time were these works ever sung during the Catholic liturgy. It is worth pointing out that concerted settings of the Passion never developed in the Catholic rite as in the Lutheran church. Oratorios were always sung outside the church as sacred concerts.

And one last word about Handel. The ecclesiastical authorities made a disctinction between poetic libretti based on biblical texts and oratorios using the actual words of scriptural, They disliked the former but were willing to permit them, but they fought against the later for a least a decade because they did not want to hear scripture sung in a theatre. That was Swift's reason for prohibing his choirboys from taking part. The Bishop of London took an even tougher line. He did not want the oratorios sung in churches because of their theatrical connection and because he dispproved of women singing in church.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 27, 2004):
< The Evangelicals and the Anglicans were amongst the first to incorporate Oratorios into Liturgical services. The Catholics did not do so until either the latter 18th century, the 19th century, or the 20 century (I am not sure which). >
Santa brought me a CD holding cantatas by Rossini. (He knows I'm a big Rossini fan by mood especially with Cecilia Bartoli singing. That woman has real talent. If she can sing Vivaldi and Gluck, why not Bach? Other Mezzos have done it. Maybe she doesn't want to stray from Romance languages - all of her stuff has been French or Italian. I've met her briefly - she speaks English better than our President. Bet she could pronounce "nuclear.") The liner notes mention that we are just now unearthing a large body of smaller works by Rossini. (Bartoli recently recorded a recital of some Rossini songs - very lovely and some hot off the presses.) Anyway it mentions that there are several cantatas among them composed for concert hall, theater or, if composed for piano accompaniment, for salon. Not mentioned is the Church. That can't be for lack of interest. Rossini was a good son of Mother Church and did a splendid Sabat Mater and the lovely Petitite Messe Solennelle. My recording of the later is dated 1968. The liner notes maintain that a proper rendition of the work was impossible with modern Italian singers because they had been trained to sing for Verdi-Puccini, a style very different than that employed by Rossini, especially in a work lacking in "theatrical technique." To solve the problem the Italian record company Ermitage turned to the Societa Cameristica di Lugano (cond Edwin Loehrer) which brought in a group of "oratorio singers" each sporting a Germanic or English name - no Italians. I'm not familiar with them (Hanneke van Bork, Margaret Lensky, Serge Maurer, James Loomis) but the record producers deemed their voices more faithful to Rossini than Italians potentially available. Could be something to it. My copy of Lucia was done by the Hanover Band under Charles Mackerras - lead singer is Andrea Roost. In those liner notes Mackerras goes into exactly the same issue and maintains that a truly HIP bel canto opera requires singers that employ techniques very different from those that made Maria Callas into a household name. It's a wonderful Lucia BTW and it does sound different. Maybe Junghänel should give Norma a try.

 

Messiah cf. XO

Neil Halliday wrote (December 24, 2004):
A quick look through Parrot's Messiah booklet reveals that there are only 5 very short unaccompanied recitatives, and no 'plain' chorales (in fact, no chorales at all) in the Messiah.

In contrast, the XO has many secco recitatives, some of them well over a minute long, and many plain 4-part chorales.

In the light of a list member's comment that the XO seemed too long, and "overstayed its welcome", for one sitting, at a concert he attended recently, I wonder if the situation noted above has anything to do with a listening experience that extended into boredom (notwithstanding the fact that Bach did not intend the work to be performed at one sitting).

Personally, I listen to a two CD set I 'burned' from Richter's 3-CD set (ie, minus many of the seccos and chorales), when I want to enjoy this music. (Parts 1,2,3 fit nicely on one CD: 4,5,6 fit on the second CD). As a matter of fact, the music flows in much the same way as the Messiah, is about the same length, and IMO is much more enjoyable than listening to it as if part of a church service, with all those seccos and chorales.

Is this why the Messiah is more popular than the XO? The music on 'my' 2 CD set is as wonderful as, or better than, the music in the Messiah. Moreover, it is more truly music of Christmas, than Messiah is.

Do we in fact need a concert version of the XO, for present day audiences, ie, one that can enable the 'entire' work to be comfortably experienced in one sitting, as outlined above? In other words, is it time to secularize the XO, for performance in the concert hall, in contrast with performances that are presented in a church, as part of a service?

Lex Schelvis wrote (December 25, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Is this why the Messiah is more popular than the XO? >
Well, in the Netherlands the XO is far more popular than the Messiah. I can only speak for myself, but after an hour Messiah I always stop. And three hours of XO is no problem at all.

So I can't answer the question. But there is an easy answer on the question: Why is the Messiah more popular in the english speaking countries? It's English.

Today I bought Parrot's version of the Messiah. It was so cheap, had to do it. So I'm going to give it another try: 1.000.000 Handel fans can't be wrong.

John Reese wrote (December 25, 2004):
>>So I can't answer the question. But there is an easy answer on the question: Why is the Messiah more popular in the english speaking countries? It's English. >>
Well... sort of. Handel could have used some elementary grammar lessons before launching into the Messiah.

Dorian Gray wrote (December 25, 2004):
>>Well... sort of. Handel could have used some elementary grammar lessons before launching into the Messiah. <<
The "libretto" is scripture passages compiled by Charles Jennens. I'm not sure, but I think the language sounds like it might have been a King James translation used at the time, or possibly older. Does anyone know what version Jennens was using?

Now if one is speaking to the question of where the accentual emphasis is in pronunciation throughout the music, I am not qualified to comment. But some passages do seem awkward- however, never from the point of view of strict grammar.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 25, 2004):
Dorian Gray wrote:
< The "libretto" is scripture passages compiled by Charles Jennens. I'm not sure, but I think the language sounds like imight have been a King James translation used at the time, or possibly older. Does anyone know what version Jennens was using? >
Yes, it was the KJV, albeit with some alterations. Especially in the second half of the Aria "He shall feed His flocks," namely "Come unto Him, all ye that labour," which is a corruption of Matthew 11: 28-29, and the following Chorus "His yoke is easy," which is a corruption of Matthew 11: 30. Another example of alteration is the text's treatment of Psalm 22: 7-8 ("All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver him: let Him deliver him, seeing he delighted in Him.")

Alan Klamkin wrote (December 28, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I attended the performance of the XO in Tel-Aviv, conducted by Peter Schreier, on Dec.20, the night after the performance attended by Uri Golomb in Jerusalem. The audience had no problem sitting through the 2 1/2 hour program, with one intermission, something like an average length opera, and were very enthusiastic in their response at the end. Bach's music is, in my opinion more varieted and innovated than Handel's, most parts having different vocal and instrumental ensembles than the others. Playing music written for a church is problematic in today's concert halls. I didn't think that the choir, 22 in number, was strong enough for the hall, and the harpsicord was innaudible. Otherwise, the orchestra (about 30 in number) and the soloists (not top-rate) sounded more than adequate. On the whole, Peter Schreier deserves all the praise for bringing most of the sound and atmosphere of the work to an audience and hall not used to hearing this work. Bach himself would probably have liked the innovation of the conductor singing the part of the Evangelist!

 

Top 3 Recordings of the Christmas Oratorio?

Drew Point wrote (December 2, 2005):
I have been getting into the "spirit" of the holidays with -- who better than? -- Bach and his spectacularly euphoric Christmas Oratorio (the opening movement alone is enough to cure the worst case of the blues).

I was wondering if list members would be willing to share their 3 most favorite recordings of the Christmas Oratorio and explain some of things they find most enjoyable about them.

I'll get things going . . .

1. Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan (BIS). I can see why Gramophone recommends this recording above all others. Everything seems "right" about it: the atmosphere (both hushed reverence and explosive joy), the soloists, the choir, and the players. The liner notes also provide useful, down-to-earth (i.e., not ridden with musicological jargon) insight about the music and its symbolism.

2. Jacobs, RIAS Kammerchor / Academy of Ancient Music, Berlin. I was listening to this recording again last night, and admiring its wonderful polish. Gura is the perfect Evangelist. RIAS Kammerchor sounds on top of their game, too. Scholl is brilliant, as always -- I can't think of anybody who I would rather have sing "Bereite dich Zion" and "Schlafe mein Liebster." Jacob's reading of the pastoral sinfonia (which is taken at a slower clip than most recordings) has grown on me. At first it seemed too slow. But, after listening to it over time, I find that it has its own beauty. This is one of the finest instrumental compositions of the 18th century, and deserves to be savoured. The new "deluxe" version of this recording (released 2004) is worth the investment.

3. Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. (*DVD: TDK or Arthaus). Recorded in Dec. 1999 (Weimar)to inaugurate Gardiner's Cantata Pilgrimage. Arthaus just released this wonderful concert (originally it was released on TDK). The ambience of the church is perfect. And the enthusiasm of the choir and brass players is contagious. There are also two (one per disc) fascinating documentaries that treat the Christmas Oratorio, Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage, and some of the churches in this region (one that looks much as it would have during Bach's day) of Bach's Germany. Great stuff!

Bachian Christmas Cheer,

John Pike wrote (December 2, 2005):
[To Drew Point] I have 3 recordings only. I love Gardiner on DG and I also greatly enjoyed Herreweghe on virgin. The other recording is with the Thomanerchor and, I'm sorry to those who love this choir and slow preformances, but I just can't listen to it, especially not after Gardiner, which I find so thrilling.

Santu de Silva wrote (December 2, 2005):
[To Drew Point]
1. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen (Musical Heritage Society / Collins Classics)
Just wonderful in every detail, except for the Bass, whose voice is a little too shaky.

2. Ralf Otto, Vokalensemble Frankfurt (Brilliant Classics)
Ruth Zeisak is wonderful in this, and the choir is also very fine.

3. Collegium Aureum (unknown conductor.- - I'd like the complete recording of this; I only have a tape of highlights)
I like the soprano soloist - a boy treble, and all the movements in the recording are uniformly good.

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (December 3, 2005):
Santu De Silva wrote:
< 3. Collegium Aureum (unknown conductor.- - I'd like the complete recording of this; I only have a tape of highlights)
I like the soprano soloist - a boy treble, and all the movements in the recording are uniformly good. >
The Collegium Aureum is here conducted by Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden. It's a 1973 recording (remastered and reissued in 1987 by EMI Deutsche Harmonia Mundi).. The soloists are Hans Buchhieri (soprano), Andreas Stein (alto), Theo Altmeyer (tenor) and Barry McDaniel (baritone). The Tölzer Knabenchor is the choir. The boys' voices are indeed so fresh and moving. This Weihnachts-Oratorium recording is my favourite.

I also love the more classical Enoch zu Guttenberg 1997 recording (Farao Classics). Not as outstanding as his SMP recording, but very clear and bracing though.

And I still appreciate the Harnoncourt recording too.

I have the René Jacobs recording, but I appreciate it very moderately. I find it mannered and uneven.

I only listened to extracts out of the Van Veldhoven 2002 recording, but it sounds very good to me. And when I think how extraordinary is his SJP recording, it might be really interesting to give to his WO a whole and careful listening.

I always read terrible things about Philip Pickett's recording. Is it really that bad?

Terence wrote (December 3, 2005):
The desert island Christmas Oratorio is the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi Collegium Aureum/Schmidt-Gaden set. Beautifully sung and paced; quite un-stodgy. Alas, maybe not available anymore. After that, I would go for the Telefunken/Harnoncourt set. I'm a little offput by the hyper-professionalism of most sung Bach these days, from Eliot Gardiner and Suzuki et al. on down. Fabulous sight-reading.

Before I leave this mild iconclasm, I'd like to comment on last week's discussions about the partitas. I'm bored out of my mind by the somnolent, self-regarding playing of Perahia, and sadly, my fellow Canadian Hewitt, clunking away, and their ilk. If Bach is to be played on a piano, I prefer that the piano not be treated as a pianoforte; give me the energy of Andrei Gavrilov, for example, in the French Suites, anyday.

Ralph Gottier wrote (December 3, 2005):
Paul Dirmeikis wrote:
< The Collegium Aureum is here conducted by Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden. It's a 1973 recording (remastered and reissued in 1987 by EMI Deutsche Harmonia Mundi).. The soloists are Hans Buchhieri (soprano), Andreas Stein (alto), Theo Altmeyer (tenor) and Barry McDaniel (barytone). The Tölzer Knabenchor is the choir. The boys' voices are indeed so fresh and moving. This Weihnachts-Oratorium recording is my favourite. >
I like this recording too, especially the alto - Andreas Stein. But for my opinion the Collegium aureum ist playing a bit brave. My favourite Weihnachtsoratorium is the newly issued one on DVD by Nikolaus Harnoncourt from about 1983/84 with the Concentus musicus, Tölzer Knabenchor, different boy soloists (soprano), Stefan Rampf (Alto), Peter Schreier (tenor) and Robert Holl (bass). I like also the version ofGardiner. Please excuse my english-mistakes.

Juozas Rimas wrote (December 5, 2005):
Drew Point wrote:
< 3. Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. (*DVD: TDK or Arthaus). Recorded in Dec. 1999 (Weimar)to inaugurate Gardiner's Cantata Pilgrimage. Arthaus just released this wonderful concert (originally it was released on TDK). The ambience of the church is perfect. And the enthusiasm of the choir and brass players is contagious. There are also two (one per disc) fascinating documentaries that treat the Christmas Oratorio, Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage, and some of the churches in this region (one that looks much as it would have during Bach's day) of Bach's Germany. Great stuff! >
Bach is the unparalleled composer of joyful, exuberant music to me. And in this type of music (Xmas oratorio intro choir, Easter oratorio (BWV 249) intro choir, Magnificat (BWV 243) intro choir, the intro movements of the 1st and 4th orchestral suites) I cherish vitality the most. If drums are used, I like to hear them as clearly as possible, shaking the ground!! Therefore, I love the recording by Gardiner - I'd enjoy even stronger drums! Herreweghe's Easter oratorio (BWV 249) intro choir is another great example of great drumming.

From my teen years of listening to drum and bass music, I have retained the enjoyment of the seemingly dull instrument which in fact may induce so much energy if used well.

Juan Carlos Herrera wrote (December 5, 2005):
[To Drew Point] I have only two versions of the Christma's , wich for many of you may sound old fashioned and not according to post modern interpretations (HIP or others). But any way, I am very happy with them These are:

- Karl Münchinger with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.
In this one, brass are great and female singers wonderfull. Good sound quality also.

-Karl Richter and the Munchen Orcheestra.
Great and vigorous rithm, as usual in Richter.
Brass in the forefront and very loud, as I enjoy them.
And as an extra, good sound quality.

I wonder whether Klemperer recorded the Christma's. If he did it, I´ll be glad to get a copy.

Matthew Drion wrote (December 5, 2005):
[To Juan Carlos Herrera] You will certainly love the Kurt Thomas 1950 (the first of two) recording!

Something that meens Christmas....

Far away from the Harnoncourt generation.

Robert Sherman wrote (December 5, 2005):
[To Matthew Drion] Zu Guttenberg is my favorite. Soloists are not world-class names but give world-class performances. Brass is incredible, with Hardenberger playing first trumpet.

Drew Point wrote (December 6, 2005):
< Bach is the unparalleled composer of joyful, exuberant music to me. And in this type of music (Xmas oratorio intro choir, Easter oratorio (BWV 249) intro choir, Magnificat (BWV 243) intro choir, the intro movements of the 1st and 4th orchestral suites) I cherish vitality the most. If drums are used, I like to hear them as clearly as possible, shaking the ground!! Therefore, I love the recording by Gardiner - I'd enjoy even stronger drums! Herreweghe's Easter oratorio (BWV 249) intro choir is another great example of great drumming.
From my teen years of listening to drum and bass music, I have retained the enjoyment of the seemingly dull instrument which in fact may induce so much energy if used well. >
Yes! I agree wholeheartedly. I think Gardiner makes a comment (in one of the documentaries in the Christmas Oratorio DVD set) that Bach -- when in his euphoric state -- is PEERLESS.

It is peculiar, then, isn't it, that a stereotype of Bach as serious and severe Teutonic church composer continues to be dominant?

Perhaps part of this is the only "certain" portrait we have of Bach (Bach's eyesight was on the wane, so that might account for the serious look?): http://www.let.rug.nl/Linguistics/diversen/bach/pictures/bach1.html

Or maybe it is the "Tocatta and Fugue in d" and its association with horror and madness?

Or maybe it is young piano students who come to resent Bach for his demands on their hapless, untrained fingers?

If the recent explosion of interest in Bach's vocal works -- especially the cantatas -- demonstrates anything, it is Bach's "joie de vivre."

If you like the exuberant in Bach, I think you will enjoy the new Alessandrini recording of the Brandenburgs. Pure JOY (irregardless of how you like your tempi)!

Anne Smith wrote (December 6, 2005):
Serious Bach? -( was Top 3 Recordings of the Christmas Oratorio?)


Drew Point wrote:
< It is peculiar, then, isn't it, that a stereotype of Bach as serious and severe Teutonic church composer continues to be dominant?
<snip>
< Or maybe it is young piano students who come to resent Bach for his demands on their hapless, untrained fingers? >
For sure. Many years ago I was one of those young piano students who was given a Two Part Invention before the fingers and mind was ready. Played the F+ as fast as humanly possible (speed is what counts when you are a pre-teen ) and then on to a Sinfonia. Muddled through the one in E+ and then on to the WTC. No joy here! Enough to turn any kid off Bach. Shame on the Conservatory system!

Juozas Rimas wrote (December 7, 2005):
The versatile JSB (was: Top 3 Recordings of the Christmas Oratorio?)

Drew Point wrote:
< Yes! I agree wholeheartedly. I think Gardiner makes a comment (in one of the documentaries in the Christmas Oratorio DVD set) that Bach -- when in his euphoric state -- is PEERLESS. It is peculiar, then, isn't it, that a stereotype of Bach as serious and severe Teutonic church composer continues to be dominant? >
Indeed, because Bach seems to me as versatile as the Apache helicopter.

Beside the exuberant joyful music, I also hold Bach to be the prime master in the following fields:

1) one-voice music - I mean the solo/cello/flute solo works. I haven't yet found a composer who could stuff so much power into a measly one line of sounds with no support of accompaniment.

2) elementary music - I mean the music which sounds like the beginning of everything, the Big Bang of music. Examples: the prelude of the 1st English suite, the 1st prelude of WTC1 etc.

3) intertwining of instrument and voice. I have recently listened to the soprano aria from BWV1 "Morgenstern" - the oboe line quality is as good as that of the voice all the time. I have lost count of the arias where this superb intertwining is present.

I didn't mention the usual attributions, such as that of "the best composer of fugues", which is, of course, true.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 7, 2005):
[To Juozas Rimas] What an engaging theme to help us expound the significance of Bach to the doubters! In what fields does he rank as the par excellence exponent of a particular form or approach?

He is indeed the lead composer in Western music for multiple reasons and not just fugue;

major development in concerto form (Brandenburgs)
Unchallenged composer of organ repertoire
leading exponent of equal temperament (WTC)
standard for harmonic basis of Western music, at the same time often most unorthodox developer of harmonisations (chorales)
Leading composer of Passion and Cantata forms

On top of all this fairly standard observation, the BCW has brought out for me what I'd like to call (there may be better descriptions for a quality which captures the varying types of artifice behind much Bach) his advancement of musical hermeneutics. That is to say , the extension of musical form to embrace forms or meanings strictly speaking outside the surface value of the music, elements not captured by normal exegisis.Examples are :

-the BACH acrostic in BWV 150, likely his first Cantata
-the Wilhelm Friedrich Herzog der Sachsen acrostic in the newly-discovered Weimar aria , "Alles mit Gott" (BWV 1127)
-the BACH themein K de F
-the RICERCARE acrostic in the Musical Offering (paradoxical as it is!)
-the intonation clue in the dedicatory page of K de F
-the Canon in the Haussmann portrait
-the Ut Re Mi puzzle set out in Yeardsley
- the contrary motion in BWV26 stressing the reversibility of the key words NEBEL and LEBEN
-many examples of interposition of chorales to insinuate an affekt enlarging or modifying the emotional range of the ostensible theme (BWV 48/1 is a good example; the use of lullaby rythmn in Sterbenlieder is another)
-the (controversial I know) use of gematria patterns, such as are revealed in the structure of the St John Passion
-the hidden chorales in the solo D minor violin Partita BWV 1004 written after the death of Maria Barbara, as analysed by Helga Thoene
-the extreme use of migration to remote keys to denote psychological movement in the narrative

This interrelating of musical art to constructs in poetry, philology,mathematics and theological symbolism is achieved in complementation (not to the detriment) of the arresting quality of the music, surely a feat not achieved by any other composer to the same degree.In saying all this , one senses that we are only midway to evaluating the interrelationship of Bach's music to non-musical structures, inferences and influences.

Has anyone a better mode of defining in a catch-all phrase this special quality in Bach?

Juan Carlos Herrera wrote (December 7, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill] I think that, besides all the aspects that can be called technical (temperament, development of musical forms, harmony and others ) and after decades of listening to music of all kinds and varieties, my impression is that what is contained in J.S.Bach's music, even in the very minor or less complex works, is related to something that is in direct relation to components of our misterious inner structure ( call it soul, spirit or any other). Being myself a devoted pytagorean, I am sure that numbers and math have a lot to do with that. Everything in nature finally end up in numbers, we move in a sea of them; in normal conversation, you can observe that after only a very few words, there is always a number that emerge. The inner structure of matter (and the ensuing structure of everythig, up to galaxies) has been posible ( quantum mechanis, nuclear physics.etc) solely because man has ben able to figure out the right math, i.e. the right numbers. Numbers are not innanimated objects, they are bodies with a true life and astonishing properties. Bach music is an array of bodies of numbers that evolve in time in misterious frecuencies and paces that get into consonance with corresponding bodies in man's inner soul. All human emotions are triggerd by this inner bodies, and when music gets in, particularly JSB's , the corresponding emotios or fealig is declanched. This is the reason why so many people, me included, simply start to cry, unvoluntarily, when listening to a particular piece. It happend to me the first time listening to the choir "for unto us a child is born" (The Messiah, Haendel) and with time it happens also with a lot of Bach's, particularly the introductory choir and other parts of Saint Matthew Passion. Yesterday it happened with parts of BWV 80 ( Ein fest burg int unsern Gott...).

Many people have pointed out a possible relation between JSB music and math. I do not have the tools to demonstrate or deny this, but I have a personal experience that for me is enough to accept the relation. Some years ago I was studying a mathematical structure called the Mandelbrot Set, wich is an aggregate of complex numbers generated by iterating a very simple numerical relation. When one repeat and repeat the iteration and plot the results, one arrives to incredibly, and most of all, beautifull pictures that are more than geometrical stuff. There is a central figure very well defined, and all arround and emerging from it there are branches, formed by millions of repetitions of this basic structure, giving place to the most peculiar forms ( I am sure all of you have seen this set in the internet or even on TV). By this time I had also the "shocking"(in a positive sense) experience of observing and listening to G.Gould playing the Goldberg Variations. I inmediatly associated the structure of sound and rithms of the Goldberg's with the Mandelbrot Set. The share a central root and a structure of potencially infinite variations. From this time on for me : Goldberg's Var = Mandelbrot Set. If I see one, I listen to the other. If I listen to one, I see the other.

After that, I tried one catch-all frase : In the origin it was numbers => art is numbers => Music is the absolute art => Bach is the absolute musician.

Sorry for this "épanouisement".

Julian Mincham wrote (December 10, 2005):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
< It is peculiar, then, isn't it, that a stereotype of Bach as serious and severe Teutonic church composer continues to be dominant? >
For those who want to gain a better insight of Bach the human being, teacher, husband and all round fascinating individual (stripping away the Victorian myths about the hard done by, bitter and unappreciated cantor) they should read (and re-read) Christoph Wolff's excellent book Johann Sebastian Bach: the Learned Musician OUP 2001.

This book, whilst focussing upon the music, also strips away many of the Victorian myths about Bach's life, temperament and character. One particular observation he makes relates to the myth of Bach's being undertrodden and beset by regulation at Leipzig. Wolff suggests that, far from this being the case, Bach's position in control of church and university music within the city made him so powerful as to be 'virtually ungovernable).

Wolff did the notes for the Koopman recordings of the cantatas (now almost complete) and has produced separate volumes on the cantatas.

 

Text in Christmas O

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 10, 2006):
< Unfortunately, none of this delightful tableau can be found anywhere in the New Testament! (The "manger" is a mistranslation of the Aramaic anyhow). So it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Bach sets quite ascetic texts given the Lutheran atmosphere of biblical fidelity and doctrinal emphasis . >
Good point.

< When we come to the Christmas Oratorio, although the descriptive components from the Gospels of the shepherds, the star, the wise men and the gifts are indeed apparent (unlike the first Christmas at Leipzig), Bach scrupulously avoids the apocryphal worshipping animals . (...) There certainly were Chorale texts which were extant that bring on the hristmas menagerie, such as the macaronic "Puer Natus in Bethlehem". As far as I know (any contrary observations?) however, Bach and/or his librettists avoids this fiction which is, and always has been, extra-biblical. >
That's a nice thing about having the components of the Christmas O performed on six different occasions, or at least divided out to more than one. It emphasizes that the wise men didn't show up the same day/evening at any stable or any manger (feed trough). Rather, if the several biblical stories are preserved in their separate details, the appearance of these visitors was somewhat later and their visit took place at a "house".

Nor was it necessarily a group of exactly three important men (plus any traveling retinue?), as tradition would have it; but that's only a conflated assumption from having three different types of gifts described.

Anyway, one of my own little traditions is to listen to "Amahl and the Night Visitors" every year sometime during Christmas week. Delightful piece with the three traditional kings. And Menotti is turning 95 this year.
http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0579781/
Naxos

This album "It's a Cow Christmas" has some funny parodies of other Christmas songs, including one in which the manger scene was thus: "First came cows, and then came pigs!"
Musica Obscura
The song "Jezebel" on there has lyrics "Jezebel, Jezebel, Jezebel the cow; wondrous is your beauty when you're standing at the trough" (and "cow" and "trough" are made to rhyme).

Speaking of mistranslations and traditional accretions, when did Cinderella's footwear transmute from a fox fur moccasin into a glass slipper?

Mike Mannix wrote (January 11, 2006):
With regard to translations:
Did anyone ever write to Handel from Germany translating Brook Street as Bach Strasse?

This would have wound the fat Prussian up!

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 11, 2006):
[To Mike Mannix] Good one. And it's probably a good thing GFH didn't know the future resident of his home block was going to be Jimi Hendrix, stealing his thunder. But Handel did write a fine little piece for guitar, much earlier in his career...with a Spanish text and everything, and in flagged void notation. Always an enigma.

No se enmendara Jimis!

I made a performing edition of it, many years ago, for a class research project; now stashed in some file somewhere.... This piece: http://www.music.qub.ac.uk/tomita/11baroque/abstracts/Carreras.htm
Anybody know if there's ever been a recording of this little Spanish cantata by Handel, with guitar?

 

Christmas Oratorio

Josh Klasins wrote (December 5, 2006):
Never having heard this work I would like to ask the group about favored recordings.

Considering this performance- by Helmuth Rilling, Stuttgart Bach Collegium, Sibylla Rubens, James Taylor, and Johann Sebastian Bach (Audio CD - 2000) Anyone heard it?

Any recommendations?

Thanks,

Pal Domokos wrote (December 5, 2006):
[To Josh Klasinski] I don't think you can go very wrong with Rilling. I have one of his older XO recordings which is very good.

On the other hand, I find Gardiner's XO from the 80's absolutely marvellous. And let's not forget his DVD with the opening concert of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on it: again, very good.

A cheaper alternative to the previous three is The Sixteen Choir & Orchestra's CD. I only listened to it once but it sounded good.

Harnoncourt's version is out on DVD, too. I'm not a fun of his but in my opinion this recording is good (with Peter Schreier as evangelist, how could it be not good?).

I also wouldn't rule out Karl Richter's recording from 1955, if you like Richter's Bach.

I don't have either Herreweghe's or Suzuki's XO but based on their wonderful cantata and passion recordings, they must be great, too.

Hope this helped!

Josh Klasins wrote (December 6, 2006):
[To Pal Domokos] Thanks much Pal

 

Continue on Part 7

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248: Details
Recordings: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Systematic Discussions:
Cantata 1 | Cantata 2 | Cantata 3 | Cantata 4 | Cantata 5 | Cantata 6 | Part 7: Summary
Individual Recordings:
BWV 248 - Collegium Aureum | BWV 248 - H. Christophers | BWV 248 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 248 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 248 - R. Jacobs | BWV 248 - N. McGegan | BWV 248 - R. Otto | BWV 248 - K. Richter | BWV 248 - H. Rilling | BWV 248 - P. Schreier | BWV 248 - M. Suzuki | BWV 248 - K. Thomas | BWV 248 - J.v. Veldhoven
Articles:
A Bottomless Bucket of Bach - Christmas Oratorio [D. Satz] | BWV 248/19 “Schlafe, mein Liebster” - A Background Study with Focus on the Colla Parte Flauto Traverso Part [T. Braatz]

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

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