Bach: Christmas Oratorio

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LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Christmas Oratorio
PERFORMER: Lynda Russell (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (alto), Mark Padmore (tenor), Michael George (bass) The Sixteen, Orchestra of the Sixteen/Harry Christophers
On 2 October 1993 The Sixteen were 16. That is to say Harry Christophers’s excellent Sixteen Choir and Orchestra celebrated their 16th birthday. And to mark the event, Collins have issued no fewer than three major new recordings of the ensemble: Handel’s Israel in Egypt, Volume IV of the Eton Choir Book, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. The Bach disc is superlative, demonstrating all The Sixteen’s familiar virtues: precise, musical choral singing, crisply articulated playing by their orchestra, and an historically informed approach. Simon Heighes’s informative note emphasises the devotional, rather than concert, nature of the Christmas Oratorio, and this is the key to Christophers’s interpretation. Lilting rhythms in the arias reflect the intimacy of the nativity episodes, while the choruses radiate the joy of belief, rather than the clamour of ceremonial. Contributing to that feeling are the muted, even delicate, yet still exuberant tones of the natural trumpet (expertly played by Crispian Steele-Perkins), not least in the final chorus and in the bass aria ‘Grosser Herr’. Michael George is the outstanding bass soloist; Lynda Russell, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Mark Padmore also give pleasure in the remaining solo roles. Barry Millington