Related Reviews
Fanfare
'One cannot listen to it without reacting to its dance-like energy and sensing the infectious joy of the Christmas season.'
more >>
Iowa Public Radio
'...it won't surprise you that it's now my own Christmas Oratorio of choice.'
more >>
Audio
4 Stars
AUDIOphile Pearls: „Entfaltet der anerkannte Bach-Dirigent Transparenz, Drive und große Textverständlichkeit. Musikalisch ist Butts federnder, tänzerischer Ansatz fraglos reizvoll.''
more >>
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.''
more >>
Ouverture Das Klassik-Blog
'The paired-down cast has great advantages here - as transparent as I have ever heard the choirs.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
The Arts Desk
The Year's Best Seasonal Releases: 'The Dunedin Consort's playing is full of character...exceptionally good, and beautifully presented.'
more >>
Financial Times
4 Stars
'John Butt and his Dunedin Consort's performance gives the composer's Christmas fare a seasonal sparkle.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
High Res Mac
"Frohes Fest"
more >>
The New Yorker
Notable Performances and Recordings of 2016
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
Bild der Frau
Pick for Christmas: '...seduces the listener with more than two hours of enjoyable listening - and not just at the Christmas time.'
more >>
musica Dei donum
'The playing is of the highest level. Especially the players of the brass deserve praise for their efforts.'
more >>
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''
more >>
Limelight Magazine
The Limelight Magazine Christmas Gift Guide: Pick for Christmas morning
more >>
Audiophile Audition
5 Stars
Eight Christmas CDs for the 2016 Holidays: 'John Butt has rendered a sparkling and energetic performance of this work.'
more >>
Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger
„Insgesamt ist die Produktion hochprofessionell..."
more >>
De Standaard
5 Stars
„Een plaat die onder de kerstboom moet.” / 'A disc which needs to be placed under the Christmas tree.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.''
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
BBC Music Magazine
4 Stars
'John Butt's spruced up Christmas Oratorio has the same sense of freshness as previous releases...'
more >>
KMT
”Helt naturligt blev den nyligen släppta friskt glänsande inspelningen...strålande solistprestationer som i Juloratoriet i en ljuvlig återgivning av Juldagens.”
more >>
Vårt Land
5 Stars
KLASSIKER: «Ingen jul uten Johann Sebastian Bachs Juleoratorium».
more >>
Schreibwolff
,,erschienen zeigt es dem Hörer eine äußerst transparent musizierte Version der Bachschen Festmusik''
more >>
Early Music Review
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.'
more >>
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. »
more >>
Rondo
,,...schöner Momente beglückend ausgelassenen Musizierens...'' / 'some beautiful moments of gleefully exuberant music'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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...'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
McAlister Matheson Music
'This is a fabulous recording...guaranteed to fulfil even the highest expectations!'
more >>
The Herald Scotland
'This absolutely essential recording is seventh heaven.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>
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.'
more >>

Dunedin Consort - J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio - MusicWeb International


02 December 2016
MusicWeb International
Simon Thompson

John Butt's Bach and Handel recordings with the Dunedin Consort have become things to look forward to, and this Christmas Oratorio is another mightily successful feather in his cap.

Butt's small but perfectly formed team of experts, under his own equally expert leadership, make a crack team when it comes to this music, skilled as they are in performances of Bach's other large scale sacred music. There is a tremendous sense of excitement in this performance. You hear it in a lot of things - Butt's pacey tempi, for example - but it's generated first and foremost from the crack instrumentalists and the special character of the sound. To use the two most obvious examples, the trumpets gleam triumphantly, adding wonderful colour to the moments when they are used, and the horns sound magnificent in Part Four, gloriously ceremonial and wonderfully open. On the other hand, the Sinfonia that opens Part Two is graceful and beautifully pastoral, while the solo obbligati for the arias are all excellent.  Listen, for only one example, to the way the violins lean ever-so-subtly into certain phrases as they dazzle around the tenor line in Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben in Part Four. That's typical of the skill and organic vivacity of the music-making that brings this score to such vibrant life.

As is his regular practice, Butt broadly adopts one-to-a-part for the choruses and, typically for him, he has a particular sort of performance in mind, which he explains in the booklet notes.  Unlike his Messiah, Christmas Vespers or St John Passion, however, he isn't trying to recreate a particular performance but instead to "present the range of choral scoring that Bach seems to have used" which, in practice, comes down to him using two groups of soloists for different cantatas: Bevan, Wilkinson, Mulroy and Brook for Cantatas One, Three and Six; Lunn, Hendrick, Hobbs and Wolff for Cantatas Two, Four and Five. 

You'll either buy this or you won't, and I'm not always convinced by it myself, but this is the most persuasive case for one-to-a-part that I can imagine.  There are obvious gains in transparency and immediacy and, in this of all works, it adds to the sense of community singing intrinsic to the chorales. It's also welcome that the soloists emerge from the choral texture and vice-versa, reinforcing that this is a communal adventure. There's the feel of a friendly dance (among close companions) to the angels' chorus of Ehre sei Gott, for example, and some comely bustle to the shepherds as they discuss going into Bethlehem. Similarly, the opening chorus of Part Five trips along with great energy, and the opening chorus of Part Six is a fittingly celebratory climax. The only place where there is an obvious loss is for the dialogues between chorus and soloist, which turn into simple duets, such as Er ist auf Erden kommen arm in Part One.

The singers themselves are all very good. Both sopranos weave beautiful webs of sound through their arias and (even better) their ensembles like Ach, wenn wird die Zeit in Part Five. Joanne Lunn is delightful in the echo aria Flößt, mein Heiland, weaving in and out of the oboe obbligato with grace and ease. Clare Wilkinson has a lovely sense of devotion to her voice in Bereite dich and Schliesse mein Herze, and Ciara Hendrick sounds deeply humane in Schlafe Mein Liebster. Nicholas Mulroy is a mellifluous and marvellously persuasive Evangelist, while Thomas Hobbs sounds light and sweet, and is outstandingly precise in the virtuoso runs of Frohe Hirten and Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben. Matthew Brook, a regular Butt collaborator, is a standout in the bass solos, both sympathetic and exciting in bravura numbers like Grosser Herr. German bass Konstantin Wolff is darker and, to my ears, a little less satisfying, but still very good. 

The warm yet open recording captures all of this in perfect balance, throwing the voices and instruments into beautiful relief and ensuring that absolutely nothing is lost. The presentation is beautiful, too, enclosing the discs in a hardback book that contains biographies, texts and translations; and Butt's own liner notes are a model of accessible scholarship, both historically and musicologically fascinating. 

A treat, then, and a marvellous seasonal gift whether you have a seasoned Bachian who wants to hear the work afresh, or you want to introduce a newcomer to it for the first time.    
Bookmark and Share


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)