J S Bach: Christmas Oratorio

LABELS: Challenge
WORKS: Christmas Oratorio
PERFORMER: Malin Hartelius (soprano), Kristina Hammarström (mezzo-soprano), Jörg Dürmüller (tenor), Detlef Roth (bass-baritone); Cappella Amsterdam; Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend
CATALOGUE NO: Challenge CC 76607
Hard on the heels of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s new recording of Bach’s Christmas Oratoriocomes another, this time from the Netherlands. The size of the forces in each case sounds similar: the present recording features a choir of 33 voices with treble and alto parts taken by women’s voices, but, unlike the Harnoncourt, uses modern instruments at today’s concert pitch. Jan Willem de Vriend oversees a joyful account of Bach’s festive music with light-footed responses to dance rhythms. Above all, he captures its occasional spirit with graceful phraseology from the very start. By?and-large de Vriend adopts brisker tempos than Harnoncourt’s, the admirably translucent instrumental textures further enhanced by excellent SACD sound. The four solo vocalists give accomplished performances, though just occasionally soprano Malin Hartelius sounds strained in the highest reaches of her voice. While largely free from intrusive mannerisms there are occasional moments, such as in the otherwise beautifully performed ‘Schlafe, mein Liebster’, where strong beats are over emphasised. That apart, I can wholeheartedly commend this issue for its expressive warmth, its disciplined choral singing and its natural declamation. The book – not a booklet – comes with interesting essays, an interview with de Vriend and full German texts with translation. Unfortunately there’s an entirely blank page where the tracklisting should be, now provided on-line at www.challenge.nl.