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Reviews: Bach: Christmas Oratorio - Netherlands Bach Society

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Reviews: 7

Site review by Polly Nomial December 2, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:  
The text for this review has been moved to the new site. You can read it here:

Review by Russell October 14, 2003 (2 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Some initial impressions: Though I've only heard the first cantata (there are 6 that comprise the whole work), I feel pretty confident in saying that this set is a definite must-own. First off is the elegant packaging: easily one of the most lavish and extensively illustrated I've seen for a classical CD or SACD set. Just gorgeous. The sound quality is typical Channel Classics, which is to say warm, rich, smooth, and slightly close-up. (And pure DSD, of course.) I am no expert on Bach choral works by any means (I often find them pretty dry and overly reverential), but the performance here seems spirited and lively, with good solo and choral singing. This is the same conductor/orchestra/chorus that did the Channel Classics Mozart Requiem (which I found a bit indifferent), but they seem more at home here.

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Review by beardawgs November 26, 2003 (2 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
First of all, this is the most luxuriously packed CD box Iíve ever seen. The burgundy velvety box holds two items Ė 200 page lavishly illustrated book and 2 discs. Apart from regular text and notes about artists, the book also features some very informative texts about the history of Christmas and its relation to art in general. It is obviously made as a gift, and itís quite impressive.

Performance is also excellent. It is accordingly exuberant and joyful, but never overstretched. I slightly prefer Gardinerís Monteverdi Choir for its flexibility and variety of tone colour, and he (Gardiner) has more sombre approach in the second, nativity cantata. Quartet of soloists is exemplary, especially the men (just listen to Türkís aria in Cantata No. 4). Instrumental soloists are as good as their vocal counterparts, always respectful of each otherís phrasing.

If I have any disappointments, they are due to my high expectations about the recording itself. This is the first surround recording of a major large scale choral work, and I would expect more creativity put into it. What we get here is the concert performance like any other, from what I can hear soloists in front, orchestra behind and choir at the bottom of the stage. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but if I reach (again) for excellent Gardinerís DVD Video on Art House/BBC there is a lot that can be done to break up the conventional sound picture, for one placing the Evangelist somewhere else, away from the frontal line up. But, my major complaint and disappointment is the famous Ďechoí aria in Cantata No. 4 where one soprano from the choir echoes last words sung by soprano soloist. It is after all church music, and that Ďechoingí singer can be put anywhere else, but here she stays in the choir, or just behind it. Otherwise, itís a brilliant stereo recording with good acoustics, lots of space and air (and Iím still talking of MC layer here!). Solo vocal focus is impressive, singers are right in the room with you. Choral focus slightly changes from present in chorales to distant in mixed numbers, which for me doesnít help to maintain the sense of continuity. They are all just a bit to close, which can be tiring after 2 hours at high level. Brass and percussions are placed wider than the orchestra, and that works well in the large exuberant numbers and fills in the space voluminously as well as dynamically.

A lot of work and artistry has been put in this release. It was probably too complicated to break down the soloists and the orchestra for effective surround recording and then mix them all down for stereo layer. But then, I donít think of SACD just as a medium for Hi-Res recordings, now that we have surround capabilities I strongly believe they should be used to full. Thatís why only 4 stars for the recording.

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Review by stvnharr December 25, 2003 (1 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This recording has had plenty of listening time in the 3 weeks since it has entered the collection. I never ever tire of listening. The music is all first rate. The soloists, chorus, and orchestra all sound superb. I have never been much on the Bach choral works, but I think that may be about to change. The sound is first rate, as I have found all Channel recordings to be, whether cd or sacd.
The booklet is nice, with many pictures. But it does almost make one long for the old lp days when such booklets had much bigger size pictures.

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Review by nickc March 30, 2004 (1 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
what more can one say?
fantastic performance, magnificent sound...maybe jared sacks could have put the echo in the echo aria in one of the rear speakers but it is fairly trivial in the scheme of things.
once again channel have produced a great sacd!

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Review by pjorgenunes April 30, 2004 (4 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I have this sacd for about two weeks and it's one of the best things I've ever heard. The sound and performance are great. And the ambience it's magnificient. Believe me, close your eyes and you will be just like in a great live performance with great accoustics.

If you like bach this is a MUST HAVE and urgent.

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Review by tream December 12, 2004 (8 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Bach's Christmas Oratorio is not actually a single work but a set of 6 cantatas for Christmas Day and the days following Christmas, but has moved from the realm of church music to concerted music and is now typically played in its entirety. Along with Messiah and L'Enfance du Christ it forms the base of Christmas season music (although the first two are not really just Christmas music, but have become traditional). We have a good (not great recording) of Messiah on SACD, no recording of the Berlioz (LSO Live, please favor us with a new Davis recording) and this recording of the Bach.

Up front, this is an excellent recording, for performance, sound and packaging (one of the serious advantages of LP over the XXCD format is form factor-I still own my Harnoncourt LP's of this work, and will never willingly part with it-it is such a beautiful package, complete will full score).

My previous experience with this work has been with the aforementioned Harnoncourt and the Gardiner versions. Both Gardiner and this one use a set of mixed solists and mixed chorus (ie, adult women) while Harnoncourt substitutes the Vienna Choir Boys for women. There is something touching and innocent about the use of boys in this work-the opening chorus in Cantata I, for example, or the echo duet in Cantata IV, but I can well imagine a preference for women (as I have for Messiah).

This one is extremely competitive with the Gardiner recording. There is a keen sense of the sheer beauty of Bach's scoring that comes out in the Channel Classics version-not sure if this is the recording or the playing, but it is certainly there. Van Veldhoven's rhythms are more emphatic that Gardiner's and his sense of tempo broader-not only are most tempos a bit more stately, there are substantial ritards to announce the end of each cantata.

Nonetheless, this is recommendable as a first recording or only recording of this work, and the packaging adds a great deal to the experience.

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