Sunday, December 21, 2014

Johann Sebastian Bach
Christmas Oratorio 

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, director

~ §~

Concentus Musicus Wien
Peter Schreier - Tenor
Robert Holl - Bass
Soloists of the Tolzer Knabenchor
Chorusmaster: Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden
Fisrt Part: Cantatas No 1 - 3


  1. The best of the best of Christmas repertoire!

  2. Stanley,

    There is no Frigate like a Book
    To take us Lands away,
    Nor any Coursers like a Page
    Of prancing Poetry ––
    This Traverse may the poorest take
    Without oppress of Toll ––
    How frugal is the Chariot
    That bears a Human soul!

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

    Let me take the liberty of rewriting Miss Dickinson's little piece to make a point:

    There is no Frigate like fine music
    To take us Lands away,
    Nor any Coursers like a score
    Of splendid Harmony ––
    This Traverse may the poorest take
    Without oppress of Toll ––
    How frugal is the Chariot
    That bears a Human soul!

    While I feel much as she did about books, I feel even more so about great music.

    That said, I have o say I found his performance disappointing. It came to life only when tenor Peter Schreier and bass Robert Holl were singing.

    It may be authentic according to the custom of Bach's time, but I think it was a mistake to have immature voices sing the very complex and demanding solos. The boys sang the notes accurately, but without feeling or any noticeable appearance of understanding what any of it was about.

    I've admired a lot of Harnoncourt's work in the past, but here he the fatal mistake of giving us an absolutely square, metronomic, often monodynamic account of the work one -- mea--sure -- at -- a -- time.

    His interpretation, if such it may be called, lacked FLOW. Each phrase was neatly packaged, then separated from the others. Consequently, most of the movements lacked any sense of DIRECTION.

    A different approach would give a much more appealing account of the work.

    Modern music scholars (damn their souls!) like to claim that giving a warmly human, passionate, emotionally involved performance of Bach's music is "unstylistic" and, therefore, taboo.

    Well, I happen to BE a "music scholar," and have the degrees to prove it, and I say a DESICCATED approach to performing music of any kind is pour les oiseaux -- as in twitterpated. ;-)

  3. I must add, however, that the duet between the superb bass Robert Holl and the unknown boy soprano [Yes that WAS a boy!] with the long golden tresses was the highlight of the entire hour-and-twenty-minutes. The twinkle in Harnoncourt's usually impassive eyes, and the faint smile about his lips midway through the movement betrayed his subtle pleasure in experiencing the way the two soloists broke free of the deadly dull constraints that marred too much of this reading and kept it earthbound, and gave us an incandescent reading of that extended duet.

    That said, with the exception of the exuberant opening chorus Bach's Christmas Oratorio is one of the less successful of his major choral works. To our ears anyway, it sounds much too somber for an appropriate way to mark he occasion of Our Savior's Birth.

  4. I'll be briefer...

    Sub conservatione formae specificae salva anima


  5. but as Mr. Poe might reply....

    "agressi sunt mare tenebrarum, quid in eo esset exploraturi"

  6. Thank you, Eleanora, –––– I think!

  7. Maintaining plasticity and fluidity within the confines of specific forms is what liberates the Soul, and let's it speak, Theristes.

    And that is exactly what Leonhardt most often fails to do in this (to my mind) disappointingly stilted performance.



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