SEASONAL MUSIC: Christmas Music from Leipzig Wigmore Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The New Year's Eve concert at the Wigmore Hall was Christmas music from Leipzig, performed by eight singers and 12 instrumentalists of The King's Consort directed by Robert King. Extracts from JS Bach's Christmas Oratorio were interspersed with seasonal music by his predecessors as Cantor and a sinfonia by his pupil Johann Ludwig Krebs. These also-rans, or "interesting historical figures", are at a disadvantage when isolated works by them are heard against Bach's familiar music. You're already warm to Bach, but need to be persuaded by the unknowns. Even so, allowing for that, Krebs's Sinfonia in C minor, just for the strings, seemed not much more than a mildly pleasant change, and had a pretty dull middle movement. Kuhnau's "sacred concerto", O heilige Zeit, began and ended prosaically, with fugal sections on a distinctly humdrum subject, but the intervening arias were more engaging and included a winsome triple- time solo for James Bowman, though he sang it a bit patchily.

Johann Schelle's little cantata, Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein, was short and sweet, sung by the two sopranos, Deborah York and Tessa Bonner, with a continuo group of theorbo (a long-necked lute), cello and chamber organ. The audience, which though braced by champagne during the interval had found the Kuhnau only so-so, liked it.

York and Bonner were rather oddly matched, though, in Part 4 of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Fallt mir danken, where the huskier-voiced one had to echo the more pointed tones of the other in a slightly soporific game of double identities - the two oboes did the same. The gallant tenor Charles Daniels did well in his aria, one of Bach's typical trials of breath control. Which redeemed his honour after an accident-prone aria in Darzu ist erschienen, with its athletic parts for two natural horns, played with amazing cool by Andrew Clark and Gavin Edwards. They stood their ground to the bitter end, towards which it became clear that the two oboes, Katharina Spreckelsen and Alexandra Bellamy, were out of kilter, and as Robert King broadened his perky conducting gestures in a futile attempt to impose unity, the thing stopped in cheerful cacophony. Despite a good deal of decent singing, including strong solos from the countertenor Robin Blaze and the bass Peter Harvey, there was often a feeling of the rough and ready about the evening - a "we-do-this-everyday" kind of approach, even though this was meant to be a special occasion. Christmas comes but once a year, and no doubt many musicians think it's just as well.