Related Reviews
Fanfare
'One cannot listen to it without reacting to its dance-like energy and sensing the infectious joy of the Christmas season.'
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Iowa Public Radio
'...it won't surprise you that it's now my own Christmas Oratorio of choice.'
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Audio
4 Stars
AUDIOphile Pearls: „Entfaltet der anerkannte Bach-Dirigent Transparenz, Drive und große Textverständlichkeit. Musikalisch ist Butts federnder, tänzerischer Ansatz fraglos reizvoll.''
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Image Hi-Fi
,,Der Chor und die Solisten singen ebenso lebendig wie schnörkellos. Komplettiert wird der Hörgenuss durch die Klangqualität - sondern einfach nur anrührend und mitreißend.''
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Ouverture Das Klassik-Blog
'The paired-down cast has great advantages here - as transparent as I have ever heard the choirs.'
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The Sunday Times
'This is a beautifully crafted performance...There's an easy flow to the tempos and the glowing singing of the arias is matched by deeply impressive instrumental obbligatos.'
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The Observer
Best classical Christmas releases 2016: 'Dunedin Consort's first-rate Christmas Oratorio, already released to rapturous reviews and in a class all its own.'
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The Bloomington Herald
'Features Butt's stunning Dunedin Consort and a delicious-to-hear set of soloists...the cantatas are performed with welcome energy, clarity and attention to period detail.'
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The Arts Desk
The Year's Best Seasonal Releases: 'The Dunedin Consort's playing is full of character...exceptionally good, and beautifully presented.'
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Financial Times
4 Stars
'John Butt and his Dunedin Consort's performance gives the composer's Christmas fare a seasonal sparkle.'
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NDR
CD der Woche: "Mit Pauken und Trompeten begrüßt Johann Sebastian Bach die Geburt des Christkindes. Die neue Aufnahme verbindet diesen festlichen Glanz mit tänzerischem Schwung und Präzision. Der Dirigent John Butt versprüht die Freudenfunken mit einer kleinen Orchesterbesetzung. Butt begreift das Stück als erweiterte Kammermusik, der Klang bleibt immer durchsichtig und klar. / CD of the Week: 'Johann Sebastian Bach welcomes the birth of the Christ Child with timpani and trumpets. The new recording combines this festive glow with dancing swing and precision. Butt comprehends the piece as an extended chamber music, the sound always remains transparent and clear.'
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MusicWeb International
'John Butt and his team have once again opened my ears to a fresh crystal-clear interpretation of Bach...Were it not too late, this would have been one of my Recordings of the Year.'
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High Res Mac
"Frohes Fest"
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The New Yorker
Notable Performances and Recordings of 2016
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Full House
5 Stars
'Skal der et ordentligt skud kvalitetsunderholdning til juledagene under træet, er skotske Dunedin Consorts fantastiske udgave af Bachs 'Juleoratorium' det bedste bud.' / 'For some quality holiday entertainment for under the tree, Dunedin Consort's fantastic edition of Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio' is the best bet.'
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Berliner Zeitung
Die Alben zum Weihnachtsfest: „Die Klangqualität des „Christmas Oratorio" mit dem schottischen Dunedin Consort verführt mehr als zwei Stunden lang den Hörer zum genussvollen Lauschen - und das nicht nur zur Weihnachtszeit." / The Albums for Christmas: 'The sound quality of the "Christmas Oratorio" with the Scottish Dunedin Consort seduces the listener for more than two hours to enjoy listening - and not just at Christmas time.'
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Bild der Frau
Pick for Christmas: '...seduces the listener with more than two hours of enjoyable listening - and not just at the Christmas time.'
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musica Dei donum
'The playing is of the highest level. Especially the players of the brass deserve praise for their efforts.'
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Concerto
Oratorio: „Das ergibt insgesamt einen entspannten, bassbetonten und doch transparenten Ensembleklang mit einem ungewohnt strahlenden Hör­nerklang...Alle singen und spielen mit großer Ausstrahlung... etwa die liebevoll vokal-in­strumental aufgefächerte Rhetorik in den Chören der Engel, Hirten und Weisen.'' / Magnificat: „Überhaupt präsentiert sich die Aufnahme in einem warmen, abgerundeten Klangbild''
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Limelight Magazine
The Limelight Magazine Christmas Gift Guide: Pick for Christmas morning
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Audiophile Audition
5 Stars
Eight Christmas CDs for the 2016 Holidays: 'John Butt has rendered a sparkling and energetic performance of this work.'
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Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger
„Insgesamt ist die Produktion hochprofessionell..."
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De Standaard
5 Stars
„Een plaat die onder de kerstboom moet.” / 'A disc which needs to be placed under the Christmas tree.'
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BBC Radio 3 'Record Review'
'It's exciting. It's a real authentic sound. Joanne Lunn is a standout soprano. She's precise and she's warm and she makes the Echo Aria in the Fourth Cantata work...Her colleague Matthew Brook (bass), has exactly the weight and graininess for the rollicking trumpet aria in the First Cantata. It's been well and intelligently recorded.'
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AllMusic
'Butt's solution is both clever and musically solid. Further, his mostly Scottish soloists add personality to the music and are worth hearing in themselves...This is a performance in which intelligent, small decisions cohere into a persuasive larger whole.'
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MusicWeb International
Recording of the Month: 'This Christmas Oratorio is another mightily successful feather in [Butt's] cap. His small but perfectly formed team of experts, make a crack team when it comes to this music...there is a tremendous sense of excitement in this performance. A marvellous seasonal gift.'
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Early Music Today
4 Stars
'The cycle gets off to a splendid start, with the opening chorus introduced by thrillingly incisive timpani and the trumpets sequentially tumbling over themselves with excitement. In the central section luminous, madrigalian textures remind us just why one-voice-per-part seems so inevitably right for this music.'
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Crescendo
,,Ein richtiger Musikliebhaber wird den Advent nicht ohne eine gute Prise Weihnachtsoratorium begehen wollen. Unter den diesjährigen Neueinspielungen lohnt sich beispielsweise die des Dunedin Consorts.''
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InfoDad
4 Stars
'This [recording] is transcendent, in the sense that it encapsulates the meaning of Christmas...there are ample reasons to turn again and again [to it] for enjoyment inextricably woven with enlightenment.'
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Gramophone
'Common to all Butt's Bach is an irresistible brightness and freshness, a clarity that fascinates the ear with internal detail, and a glowing sound...this latest gift from the Dunedin Consort is one to go under the tree.'
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BBC Music Magazine
4 Stars
'John Butt's spruced up Christmas Oratorio has the same sense of freshness as previous releases...'
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KMT
”Helt naturligt blev den nyligen släppta friskt glänsande inspelningen...strålande solistprestationer som i Juloratoriet i en ljuvlig återgivning av Juldagens.”
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Vårt Land
5 Stars
KLASSIKER: «Ingen jul uten Johann Sebastian Bachs Juleoratorium».
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Schreibwolff
,,erschienen zeigt es dem Hörer eine äußerst transparent musizierte Version der Bachschen Festmusik''
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El arte de la fuga
« Si le apetece disfrutar esta música maravillosa con postulados minimalistas de primerísima calidad, ésta es su opción. No defraudará a nadie cualesquiera que sean sus gustos o manías interpretativas. »
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Rondo
,,...schöner Momente beglückend ausgelassenen Musizierens...'' / 'some beautiful moments of gleefully exuberant music'
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MusicWeb International
'You'll find much to admire and enjoy in this excellent performance. Cantata One gets off to a splendid start, the trio of trumpets sparkling. In Cantata Four, the instruments make a super contribution to the opening chorus and since the singing of the quartet is excellent, this movement is a highlight of the whole set. The Linn sound is excellent.'
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Andrew Benson-Wilson
'With a distinguished group of period instrumentalists, and some outstanding vocal soloists, this is one of the most impressive interpretations I have heard. The singing is superb throughout...'
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BBC Radio 3 'In Tune'
'Absolutely love that recording...the whole recording is absolutely glittering. There's that sense of really infectious energy that hits you on this recording from the off...Let's hear some more of what promises to be one the essential recordings of the year.'
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Scotsman
5 Stars
'John Butt's Dunedin Consort does it again. This red hot interpretation of the six cantatas that make up Bach's Christmas Oratorio holds the attention from the word go. The opening chorus, Jauchzet frohlocket, hits you like a lightning bolt, Butt's infectious energy and exhilarating musicianship infusing Bach's joyous music with utterly compelling brilliance.'
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McAlister Matheson Music
'This is a fabulous recording...guaranteed to fulfil even the highest expectations!'
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The Herald Scotland
'This absolutely essential recording is seventh heaven.'
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Europadisc
'Above all, it's the sense of committed yet un-posturing devotion and sheer joy that makes this performance so extraordinarily successful. Beautifully recorded and presented, and fastidiously researched, it's hard to imagine the Christmas Oratorio being better served than this.'
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The Guardian
5 Stars
'It's surely one of the finest accounts now available of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. The choral sound is pert, sinewy, unforced; the instrumental playing is punchy, broad and charismatic.'
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Classical CD Choice
'This splendid new release is virtually an exemplar of how period practice aligned with sharp and energetic performance can ensure a very familiar piece comes up fresh as paint.'
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Dunedin Consort - J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio - Early Music Review


15 November 2016
Early Music Review
David Stancliffe
5 Stars

Performance 5 Stars    
Recorded sound 5 Stars    
Booklet note 5 Stars    
Overall presentation 5 Stars

John Butt's Christmas Oratorio with the Dunedins is splendid, from the crisp and perfectly tuned opening timpani strokes onward, and I hope it will sweep all before it as this Christmas' ‘must-have' for all EMR readers.

There are, of course, some things that I would do differently, but the vigour and balance of the ensemble, the quality of the instrumental playing, the perfectly judged tempi, the intelligent singers' splendid phrasing and breath control and the overall sense of line from all the performers combine to make this the best complete Christmas Oratorio  I know.

In the glossy booklet, and more fully in the digital material on the Linn website, John Butt explains why he uses two four-voice cori: in a matter of twelve days, there is too much to prepare and sing for one group. Bach had a minimum of two four-voice groups at his disposal in Leipzig, so this performance uses the two, and for much of the chorus-work of Cantatas 1, 3 and 6 (those with a fuller scoring, including trumpets and drums), he adds four ripienists to the concerted sections at times. (For how this is done, listen to the opening chorus of Cantata 3, Herrscher des Himmels.) This is not the only or ‘right' solution, as he is at pains to point out, but it is one way of sharing the load - and this would also be true of a modern concert performance when all six cantatas are performed in the same programme.

So what is novel in the Dunedin's recording is the make-up of the cori? The first group has many of Butt's regulars; Nicholas Mulroy and Matthew Brook are joined by the incomparable Clare Wilkinson, with Mary Bevan as the soprano. Bevan's duets with Brook are fine, but her style is more operatic than I would like, and even in the chorus work she still uses a good deal of vibrato and pushes on some of the notes. So the change when we move to Cantata 2 and the second quartet takes over is all the more striking. Just listen to the first chorale Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht  and notice the clarity of Joanne Lunn's very first line, a purity of sound that is equally good in her arias and the important ariosos in Cantata 4: I doubt if you will ever hear a better Flößt, mein Heiland in that cantata. This is a world-class singer at her best.

She is partnered in that coro by Thomas Hobbs - just the right weight and agility for Frohe Hirten with Katy Bircher's lovely flute obbligato in Cantata 2 and the busy aria with the two violins Ich will nur  in Cantata 4. Again, I cannot imagine a better performance, and this leaves Nicholas Mulroy to sing the more heroic numbers in 1, 3 and 6, like Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schrecken  in 6, that he does so well. I am less convinced by the mezzo Ciara Hendrick: I kept longing for the clarity and phrasing that Clare Wilkinson would bring to that ensemble - she would be such a good partner to Lunn and Hobbs, and I missed her in 5.i, Ehre sei dir, Gott  which goes at a cracking pace, but perfectly in control with the tricky violin figuration in bar 57 perfectly in tune; but at least we have her in the wonderful performance of 3.viii Schließe, mein Herze, where she and Cecilia Bernardini cradle each others lines to perfection.

The bass Konstantin Wolff is new to me, and he does not quite have the warmth needed for the ariosos in 4.iii and 4.v, nor the clarity for the bass line in 2.xii. The bass line is always tricky in Bach: a voice that has enough depth and edge to make a good foundation for a coro and to sing the more rumbustious arias like 1.viii Großer Herr cannot always manage the more lyrical numbers like 5.v Erleucht auch meine finstre Sinnen  convincingly. Matthew Brook can do both, and characterfully, but I am less convinced by Konstantin Wolff.

The singers in 1, 3 and 6, even without the ripienists, make a more robust sound, though Clare Wilkinson is always in danger of being shouted down by the higher pitched singers. Butt's attention to and feeling for instrumental balance and blend is so very fine, I just wish he would call his talented singers to order more. When I watched the Windsbacher Knabenchor rehearsing this summer, I was struck by the amount of time they spent in vocal training together each day, matching tone and balance between the parts. While the two types of cori are not directly parallel, they are both seeking clarity in Bach's complex music, whether in chorales or polyphonic and fugal writing. And there are some wobbles even in Joanne Lunn's otherwise impeccable line in 2.xii: are they ornaments - on weak notes? When John Butt directs Monteverdi madrigals, better control seems to be in place: what is different here?

There are one or two other minor queries. First about the bass line: does the absence of an independent fagotto part (only in Cantata 1 does a part survive) mean that a fagotto should not play in the remaining cantatas? While I realize that John Butt is following the surviving parts strictly, I missed it for example in 2.ix at the bottom of the oboe band, though I realize that Bach frequently seems not to have followed our convention of using the bassoon as the standard bass line for oboes. And should the violone play everywhere if it is always at 16' pitch? I found it more intrusive than I was expecting in some arias like 2.vi Frohe Hirten. Second, as always with John Butt, we have splendid information about the edition, the pitch and temperament, but nothing about the instruments. And third, why is so much booklet space given to the singers and all the operatic roles they have taken when no details at all are given about the splendid players, who are equal partners in this fine music-making, and a photograph on pp 54/55 which does not relate to this recording, showing a recorder and many more string players than took part.

None of this detracts essentially from what is a first rate and wonderfully musical performance. They deserve every plaudit they will get. 


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Related Links

Dunedin ConsortDunedin Consort
Johann Sebastian BachJohann Sebastian Bach
John ButtJohn Butt
J.S. Bach: Christmas OratorioJ.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio
J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Digital Deluxe Version)J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Digital Deluxe Version)