- Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio), in six parts, BWV 248 (BC D7)
Decca's 2010 recording of Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" is notable for the extraordinarily lively and supple leadership of Riccardo Chailly. The opening is breathtaking in it evocation of a bustling celebration, with both orchestra and chorus practically bursting with irrepressible excitement. He is equally effective in the moments of serene grandeur and in the gravity of the suffering foreshadowed in the passion chorales. It's an altogether fully realized and dramatically propulsive rendering of the oratorio. The Gewandhaus Orchestra uses modern instruments, but the players convincingly convey the rough energy and the refinement of the music. The sound of Dresdner Kammerchor is full but lean, warm but focused, and the singers bring great vitality and expressiveness to the choruses. All the soloists are very fine (and the blend in the ensembles is excellent), but tenors Martin and Wolfram Lattke standout out. Martin Lattke in the role of the Evangelist has a voice that is light but pure and secure, and he brings a headlong urgency to the narrative; even non-German speakers are likely to be held rapt by the naturalness of his beguiling storytelling. In the tenor arias, Wolfram Lattke has a limpid tone and phrasing, and the Shepherd's Aria is especially lovely. Soprano Carolyn Sampson, alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl, and bass Konstantin Wolff sing with effortless ease and a sure understanding of period style. Decca's sound is clean, detailed, and nicely ambient. This performance would make a fine introduction to the piece, and the felicities of the singing and playing should delight listeners who are already fans.