Choral Arts performance of J. S. Bach’s "Christmas Oratorio" BWV 248 December 31, 2014

No wonder the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral was almost filled.  I was among many who were prepared to hear a joyful masterpiece of baroque music.  Bach certainly knew how to begin the celebration, starting with four confident beats of timpani, a sweet trill of the flute, and the bright ring of trumpets.  I was captivated.

 

This is a glorious work; I cannot decide which moments I enjoyed the most.  Perhaps this is because any comparison is futile.   Overall, this performance was beautifully balanced: soloists, chorus, and orchestra formed one consistently coherent ensemble.

 

Each of the sections of the chorus was audible, yet the sound was beautifully blended.  The lively choruses were crisp, the legato chorales warm and graceful, and the diction clear.  It is wonderful to be able to enjoy this excellent chamber chorus in Philadelphia.  What a privilege!

 

The soloists were among the most accomplished singers of the chorus, except for Aaron Sheehan who sang the Evangelist. . His voice was refined and always focused, his tone beautiful throughout his range.  His narration was fluid and expressive; his diction was excellent.  It seemed to me that singing is as natural to him as speaking, a tribute to his artistry.

 

Matthew Glandorf is fortunate to be able to draw upon excellent musicians in the Philadelphia area.  For this performance he chose highly accomplished baroque soloists for each of the sections of the orchestra. Steven Zohn, Geoffrey Burgess, and Josh Cohen – baroque flute, oboe, and trumpet respectively - are exceptionally gifted interpreters of Bach’s music.  I was dazzled by their performances; I had to stifle exclamations of joy!  I felt particular pleasure as I admired each of the musicians as they played solo parts that occurred throughout the various movements of the cantata, especially in trio sections or in those with fewer instruments.

 

This was a wonderful performance and a special treat to hear all six cantatas together.  I know that Bach never heard them performed together, but over a period of time beginning at Christmas; yet I am sure he would have been happy to know that so many people could hear his work.  The variety of Bach’s music is astounding and supremely satisfying to me.  Even after three hours of listening, I found myself wishing for more.

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