Edition Bachakademie Vol 78 - A Book Of Chorale Settings - Advent & Christmas
Bach for Christmas might have been an appropriate and more succinct title so long as the prospective buyer wasn't misled into expecting something along the lines of the "What If Mozart Wrote . . ." pastiches or the endless installations in the Plàcido Domingo "Christmas in Vienna" series. This is quite a serious, classy record, conjoining chorales for Advent and Christmas with organ preludes. Some of them are so familiar they have a life of their own as often-heard carols: O Jesulein süss; In dulci jubilo; Ich steh an deiner Krippen. All are among the more than 180 chorales that Bach harmonized for use in church services through the year and that never found a permanent place in the cantatas or big choral masterworks. Rilling divides them in various ways among the full chorus and soloists, always to excellent effect. The four verses of Ich steh an deiner Krippen, for example, are each assigned to a different voice; the full chorus starts and ends Ihr Gestirn while the soprano takes the middle stanzas; Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern is splendidly and devoutly rendered by chorus alone. The two female soloists are vocally fresh and verbally deft; the gentlemen are more modestly gifted, though adequate. Ruling's expert chorus is well balanced, tonally rich, and clear in both diction and intent.
The preludes for organ serve as nice interludes between the choral numbers. Gnann's readings are fairly straightforward and conventional, without the registrational variety and color of, say, René Saorgin on his Harmonia Mundi recording of the Cycle de Noël. The 1994 Metzler organ of the Pfarrkirche St. Martin, Staufen im Breisgau, is pleasing enough, however, and has been very well recorded. The 50-odd minutes of the program might seem short measure, especially as they pass so quickly, and some listeners will be disappointed at the absence of any grandly contrapuntal, trum-pet-and-drum-accompanied choruses; but I found this a lovely, peaceful disc, a retreat from the seasonal glitz almost inescapable this time of year.
-- Ralph V. Lucano, FANFARE [11/1999]
Label: SWR Music
Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor: Helmuth Rilling
Orchestra/Ensemble: Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart, Stuttgart Bach Collegium
Performer: Gerhard Gnann
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