Les Arts Florissants / Christie, Barbican, London
Thursday 21 December 2006
Although JS Bach referred to the concept as an oratorium, what we now know as his Christmas Oratorio was actually arranged in the form of six self-contained cantatas, to be alternated between two Leipzig churches over the 12 days of Christmas 1734-35. True, there is a tenor Evangelist throughout to remind us of the Christmas narrative, but this is far less dramatised than, say, the St John Passion, and while the music is always varied and colourful, it can be difficult to sustain tension over the near-three hours that a complete performance can take at more plodding tempi.
Not that there was ever anything plodding in the "period" performance that William Christie and the accomplished singers and players of Les Arts Florissants brought to the Barbican. On the contrary, tempi were at times brisk to a fault. Admittedly, finding a speed for the joyous opening chorus that really dances, without reducing its string figures to a scramble, is tricky. But the wonderful chorus of the Heavenly Host near the end of Cantata II became a knees-up in which one could scarcely discern the resourcefulness of the inner-part writing at all.
Yet Christie's ear for exceptional young soloists evidently remains as acute as ever. In addition to the pleasing Evangelist of Yorkshire-born Nicholas Watts, there was a mesmerising account of the long-breathed cradle song "Schlafe, mein Liebster" in Cantata II by the countertenor Tim Mead, while the Dutch tenor Marcel Beekman threw off the florid roulades of his arias in Cantatas I and IV with thrilling accomplishment. The coolly poised Swedish soprano Marie Arnet made a touching scena of her Cantata IV echo-aria, while the Austrian bass Markus Werba proved warmly stentorian in his Cantata I aria with trumpet obbligato.
Indeed, the sun-bright period trumpets in Cantatas I, III and VI, the wonderfully pungent oboe da caccia sonorities in the "Pastoral Symphony" to Cantata II and the chortling horns of Cantata IV were among the principal attractions of the performance. If the ultimate, cumulative impression for the packed Barbican audience was of a suffusing warmth and radiance, how much more this must have mattered to a Leipzig congregation stepping out into a near-arctic 18th-century German winter.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Reyhaneh Jabbari: Iran due to execute woman for murder of her alleged attempted rapist
- 2 Expert urges cat lovers to own just one animal each
- 3 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 4 The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before character like Homer or Lisa
- 5 British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before character like Homer or Lisa
Cilla, episode 3, ITV - review: Ed Stoppard steals the limelight as Beatles manager Brian Epstein
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2: The Green Legend will be Netflix's first original movie
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'
The Jungle Book: A tale as old as time
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
'Women, walk wherever you want' posters taken down in Stamford Hill following 'unacceptable' signs separating men and women
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >