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Bach - Christmas Oratorio
Bach - Christmas Oratorio
Actors: Bernarda Fink, Claron McFadden, Dietrich Henschel, Christoph Genz, Monteverdi Opera Choir
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2005     3hr 18min


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Movie Details

Actors: Bernarda Fink, Claron McFadden, Dietrich Henschel, Christoph Genz, Monteverdi Opera Choir
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Other Music, Classical
Studio: Arthaus Musik
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 11/15/2005
Original Release Date: 01/01/2005
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 3hr 18min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, German
Subtitles: German, English, Japanese, French

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Movie Reviews

Bach's Christmas Oratorio from John Eliot Gardiner and Colle
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 11/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"As most music-lovers know, John Eliot Gardiner gave himself the remarkable task of performing and recording all of Bach's sacred choral/orchestral works in one year, going from church to cathedral to kirk throughout Europe. Not only that, he and the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists did the entire church calendar of cantatas on the Sundays for which they were intended. And, when the original recording company pulled out of the project, he arranged to bring out all the cantatas on his own label. Those CDs have just started being released. Some (perhaps all - I'm frankly not sure) of the performances were also filmed for release on DVD. The very first performance, done late in 1999, was this one of the Christmas Oratorio (Weinachtsoratorium) at the Herderkirche in Weimar, where Bach lived early in his career. The oratorio is a collection of six cantatas; it is not clear whether he intended them to be performed all together, or on each of six feast days between Christmas and Epiphany. Be that as it may, this performance of all six took place before a gala audience and this DVD, beautifully filmed and recorded, is a record of that event. The soloists are American soprano Claron McFadden, the glorious alto Bernarda Fink, the young tenor Christoph Genz as the Evangelist, and bass Dietrich Henschel who seems to be singing everywhere these days (I just reviewed a DVD of Strauss's 'Capriccio' in which he performed the Count).

Not enough good can be said of the performances of the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner's musical colleagues of over twenty years. I was particularly struck by the sensation playing of the woodwind players (baroque instruments, of course) and the valveless trumpets. Unfortunately these players were not named in the enclosed booklet, even though they were stars in much the same league as the singers. And the Choir is, of course, one of the very best currently before the public. Just to hear the chorales that dot the Oratorio is to be blissed out by their beauty as done by the Monteverdi Choir.

The singers are all marvelous, although soprano McFadden's beautiful lyrical soprano sometimes is drowned out occasionally either by the orchestra or, as in the duet with Henschel (in Cantata III, 'Herr, dein Mitleid'), by other singers. Genz, as the Evangelist, is a young earnest narrator with a flexible light tenor. He is marvelous in his arias in IV, 'Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben' and VI, 'Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schrecken.' Henschel has a flexible bass with plenty of metal; he is a marvelous actor as well. His aria from I, 'Grosser Herr,' is very effective. But the undoubted star - and a good thing, considering how important the alto solos are - is the remarkable Bernarda Fink. She not only has a velvety contralto but she is a deeply involved singer who manages to convey meaning by means of phrasing and inflection. She is outstanding in I, 'Bereite dich, Zion'; II, 'Schlafe, mein Liebster'; III, 'Schliesse, mein Herz.'

I understand there is a release this year, also, of an older performance of the Christmas Oratorio led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Concentus Musicus. I have not seen it, but I believe it is from twenty years or so ago.

This 2CD set also includes two short documentaries, interviews with Gardiner: "'Jauchzet Frohleckt' - John Eliot Gardiner's Cantata Pilgrimage" and "Bach Revisited: J.E. Gardiner in Saxony and Thuringia." Sound is in PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Subtitles in German, French, English, Japanese. Region Code: 0.

I cannot recommend this release highly enough.

Scott Morrison"
Weihnachtsoratorium BWV 248 - A natural trumpeter's view.
Vegan Daddy | Roslyn, WA | 12/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Gardiner is REALLY on top of this oratorio! The singing, playing, location is all superb and meticulous. He has also done well to hire a trumpet section that is, well not to offend any, NOT British. Playing the first (uncredited) trumpet parts on this DVD are none other than world reknown Baroque trumpeter, Niklas Eklund (see his Art of the Baroque Trumpet Vols 1-5 available on Naxos). Now, to defend my comment of the British, Eklund is Swedish and performs on a 3-hole short model Baroque trumpet (whereas the British perform almost exclusively on 4-hole long trumpets). What exactly does this mean to the average listener? Take any of Gardiner's Bach cantata recordings and hear those really WAVY trills played by the trumpeters (usually Mark Bennett or Crispian Steele-Perkins)- achievable but not really how they should sound. Eklund executes the trills here properly and beautifully (as it is very hard to over trill on the 3-hole instrument). This DVD recording contains some of the most spectacular trumpet playing one will ever see. Eklund is marvelous.

I do have one complaint about the recording, in the opening Coro, the timpani rolls makes the microphones delay on picking up sound.

Okay, so there is more to this beloved cantata than the also beloved trumpet parts in the opening Coro, the Grosser Herr Aria and the many others. But like my fellow reviewer has mentioned, I cannot recommend this visual recording enough.

***:) A funny note about Gardiner and Eklund - Gardiner fired Eklund later. I've heard rumours Eklund didn't think too highly of Gardiner either. It is to my understanding, Gardiner has a difficult time with trumpeters. This can be seen in the DVD "In Rehearsal with John Eliot Gardiner (BWV 63)". Also, from personal conversations with trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins, I'd been told of threats to "insert his horn into him." >Gulp!<

All funny business aside, enjoy and Happy Holidays!!"
Visually and auditorily satisfying.
Archimedes | Pennsylvania | 09/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I have just watched and listened to the whole Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio) on DVD, performed by John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, and the English Baroque Soloists.

The soloists are excellent.
The Alto, Bernada Fink, has a nice, warm voice, perfect diction, and gives a beautiful, vehement performance. Sometimes just a little too dramatic for my tastes, actually.
The Soprano, Claren McFadden, is a lovely African-American woman whose voice suits the soprano part very well. She contributes a great deal to the atmosphere of the work (performed in a beautiful Baroque Weimar church), though she has to compete in my mind with some favorites that are well established: Ruth Zeisak, with Ralf Otto, and Lynda Russell with Harry Christophers.
The Tenor / Evangelist was Christoph Genz, a young man of great charm, who delivered a beautiful performance throughout, the Evangelist parts of it from the beautiful baroque pulpit. [He pronounced Jesu as "Djesu," rather than "Yesu," and I wonder whether that is common.]
The Bass, Dietrich Henschel, is fascinating to watch and listen to, but I rather prefer a less dramatic, more lyrical performance in the Bass department. Still, Herr Henschel's performance, personal preferences apart, is practically faultless.

The instrumentalists are, as always with the English Baroque Soloists, brilliant. The brass was incredible, both the first trumpet, as well as the three of them together. The violin duet in the Tenor aria in Cantata 4 was just perfect. (The notes explain that the long melismatic sections on the word 'Leibe' were the descendants of a phrase that described serpents in the original secular cantata of which this piece is a 'parody'.) The cello, the oboes, the baroque flutes (sounding very much like recorders), they were all just wonderful. In addition, they are delightful to watch.
Gardiner makes a special effort to bring each movement to a perfect close, and the final chord is always beautifully played and ended. Listen to this, when you watch the DVD. (Gardiner conducts with his hands, without a baton, choirmaster-style.)

The choir -- it was fascinating to actually see the choir, or at least this manifestation of it. I had always imagined the choir consisting of a bunch of upper-middle-class Brits. But they looked perfectly ordinary people, of all shapes and sizes, not dominated by any one type, except that perhaps there were possibly a few more Germans there than there might have been in the usual Monteverdi Choir. Discipline was almost perfect, yet the choir clearly enjoyed their singing very much. (This was the first performance on their pilgrimage, and morale was still very high.)

Extras. (You can hardly sell a DVD without these, nowadays.) Each of the two disks has a documentary at the end, featuring Gardiner. On Disk 1, he talks about his motivation for the pilgrimage in general, and he talks about Bach (and Mozart and Beethoven). On Disk 2, we see actual visits to particular churches and locations in the Thuringia and Saxony areas, especially the Thomaskirche and a nearby fortified church of Posset, I believe, close to Leipzig (a "best-kept secret"). This little church has a functioning organ that appears to date several hundred years. Don't miss this segment!

Gardiner is very persuasive in his enthusiasm for what he was doing, about Bach, and his pleasure in performing Bach. His team consists of people who really live the music, and this comes out strongly in the DVD. The reception from the church live audience is at first a little laconic, but it was evidently recorded over at least a couple of days, and the later performances were received very well. Visually very satisfying, and auditorily also. I'm very thankful to the earlier reviewers on the Bach Recordings List who persuaded me to buy this DVD.

If you love Bach, you HAVE to have this
Teemacs | Switzerland | 10/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This was the kick-off concert for the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. Formerly, I regarded Gardiner's CD version of the Christmas Oratorio as the best, but this one is better. Perhaps it's the joy of seeing a crack ensemble at work or Gardiner having an absolute ball (he clearly loves the work). I know audiophiles who stop watching after about 10 minutes and just listen, but for me there's a real fascination of watching it all happen in front of you and marvelling that one single man wrote all this magnificence. You come away admiring Gardiner, you come away totally in awe of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Weihnachtsoratorium is not really an oratorio in the traditional sense but a series of six cantatas, one per day for each of the days of the Lutheran Christmas celebration. Bach, frequently under pressure, plagiarised much of his own work for themes - the music for opening chorale and the marvellous bass aria "Grosser Herr und starker König" of Cantata 1 are lifted from a secular cantata, and Mary's cradle song in Cantata 2 is taken from a seduction song in another secular cantata! But this was standard practice in those days, when the gulf between "sacred" and "secular" music was not so wide, and such is the genius of Bach that it all fits together beautifully. In addition, the great Hassler chorale melody "O, Sacred head", featured in the St. Matthew Passion, appears twice, including as a bright, bouncy concluding chorale at the end of cantata 6 - with a deep spiritual awareness, Bach was already looking forward to Easter at Christmas.

The soloists are great, ditto the English Baroque Soloists, but the stars of the show are, as so often, the Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner's precision instrument and apparently capable of miracles on command. Just listen to them in the wonderful, bouncy, skittering chorale that opens Cantata No.5.

And as if that wasn't enough, you get a couple of bonus documentaries, which gives you Gardiner's insight into the work and to the Cantata Pilgrimage. Gardiner is clearly a man in love with his profession and a joy to listen to."