Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

BACH Christmas Oratorio
Peter Schreier, Robert Holl, Concentus Musicus Wien, Tolzer Knabenchor/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
Waldhausen, Austria 1982
Deutsche Grammophon DG DVD NTSC 0734104

Writing whilst exposing myself to BBC Radio 3's wall to wall Bach Christmas (the complete works continuously, morning, afternoon, evening and through the night 16-25 December - as a prelude to being swamped with Mozart through 2006) I am glad that we have had the opportunity to take in the Christmas Oratorio at a more measured pace. We have been enjoying the Harnoncourt/Concentus Musicus Wien recording, one part at a time, planning to finish in the New Year; in a way closer to Bach's own intentions.

There are always enthusiasts for integrales, whether on CD or, as now, in the BBCs extravagant efforts to give us "all" of one composer or another, but there is a downside, and in Bach's case a likelihood, that great music can retreat into wallpaper background. Those who seek a more diverse and stimulating musical diet may prefer to explore radio stations abroad meanwhile. The last Mozart centenary celebration left me not wanting to hear any more of his music for a long time... Good luck to JSB, who will certainly survive this Christmas excess, as we all do our Christmas dinners.

This DVD has been giving us great pleasure. It is "historic" in two senses, giving us Harnoncourt's views from over twenty years ago, and in a performance of constant alertness and commitment. The extravagant baroque decoration of the church enhances viewing pleasure with a lively background, its focusing on architectural elements and sculpture never distracting.

Tenor Peter Schreier and bass Robert Holl are excellent and, of course reliable in a way not to be expected from the youngest choirboys. In the choruses the boys give their all, but it is a cause of considerable regret that the young soloists are unnamed. Here inequality shows up. The alto plods his way through his arias, making you wish for a more mature and musical adult singer, but the fair long-haired treble is a delight, his innate musicianship making you want to know where and who he is 23 years on.

The BBC will round up their Bach saturation with televising the newly released John Eliot Gardiner modern version of the Christmas Oratorio (doubtless without the intonation hazards of valveless horns in the early '80s) and it will be competing for what remains of your Christmas cash.


© Peter Grahame Woolf