Showing posts with label Christmas Oratorio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas Oratorio. Show all posts

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bach’s genius revealed in Christmas choral work

Some of the sopranos in the 2016 Christmas Oratorio performance. Photo credit Ian Thomson.
Christmas Oratorio
Friday 16 December 2016, Dunedin Town Hall

From start to finish – right through the six cantatas which comprise Bach’s Christmas Oratorio – the performance of this late-Baroque masterpiece by City Choir Dunedin and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra in Dunedin Town Hall on 16 December 2016 brought home to an appreciative audience the composer’s inspired inventiveness in all its breadth and depth.

The jubilant opening chorus of Cantata 1 is as taxing as it is brilliant, but both choir and orchestra proved fully equal to the challenge – with trumpets and timpani adding zest to woodwind and strings – and were no less incisive in the similarly brilliant final chorus of Cantata 6. Great stamina and assured technique are needed to cope with the relentless demands of Bach’s music, and conductor David Burchell deserves much credit for getting the very best out of his choral and orchestral forces, and for keeping the music’s unflagging momentum going throughout.

As the music’s story progressed from Christmas Day to Epiphany, the vocal soloists were also continually tested and never found wanting. Tenor Iain Tetley, as narrator of the story itself, led the way, first for alto Claire Barton, then for bass Robert Tucker, and finally for soprano Lois Johnston, and in their arias all four commented – sometimes separately, sometimes jointly – on the implications of Jesus’ miraculous birth and its sequels. Highlights were Barton’s meditative “Lock, my heart, this blessed wonder” in Cantata 3 with Tessa Petersen’s superb violin solo, Johnston’s optimistic “My Saviour, does thy name instil” (ably echoed by Caroline Burchell) in Cantata 4 with Alison Dunlop’s lovely oboe solo, Tetley’s sprightly “I will live only to glorify thee” in Cantata 4 with its intricate string accompaniment, and Tucker’s sonorous “Great Lord and mighty King” in Cantata 1 with its rich scoring for trumpet, flute and strings.

In these and many other cases the orchestra’s stylish and sensitive contributions were crucial in delineating the music’s changing moods. But this review must give a parting accolade to the choir. Superhuman music like Bach’s demands something more than mere competence from voices and instruments, and the choir’s tonal and rhythmic precision in delivering the composer’s message – both in the complex counterpoint of choruses like “Glory be to God” in Cantata 2 and in the plainer chord-based style of chorales like “Be joyful, meanwhile” in Cantata 3 – was obviously the result of constant practice and careful attention to detail. Congratulations!

J. Donald Cullington

About the reviewer:
A native of northern England, J. Donald Cullington graduated in Classics at Cambridge before qualifying as a musician (with a BMus at Durham, a DMus at Edinburgh, etc.). His musical career - as pianist, organist, choirtrainer and teacher - spans five decades, and has included four years (1975-78) as Director of Music at St Paul's Cathedral in Dunedin, and twenty-eight years in Northern Ireland as initiator, developer and (for many years) Head of the Music Department at the University of Ulster.

Donald Cullington also reviewed the 2008 performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Christmas Oratorio in December

Christmas Oratorio

Friday 16 December 2016, 7:30 pm
Dunedin Town Hall

SOLOISTS  Lois Johnston (soprano), Claire Barton (mezzo-soprano), Iain Tetley (tenor), Robert Tucker (bass)

JS Bach: Christmas Oratorio

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is a cycle of cantatas unified by the Christmas story and was first performed over six days (the first three days of Christmas, New Year’s Day, Sunday after New Year and the Feast of the Epiphany) in 1734/5. Like the St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion, an Evangelist narrates this work.

From the splendid opening chorus of the first cantata, to the final chorale and trumpet fanfare the music takes the listener through a range of emotions from praise, joy and adoration to rage, fear and, finally, glory.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Joyous prelude to Christmas

Review by Donald Cullington for the ODT:

For its pre-Christmas concert in the Town Hall on Saturday, the City of Dunedin Choir chose J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio - six cantatas written in 1734 for different Christmastide services. It proved an excellent choice, bringing out the best in all those involved.

Bach himself must take first place in the credits. Working within narrow confines — the religious and artistic culture of the Germany of his day - he nevertheless wrote church music of such variety, inventiveness and imagination that it can still astonish and inspire, as the reactions of the large and appreciative Dunedin audience showed.

But meeting Bach's demands is not easy, for he requires virtuoso technique and stamina from both instruments and voices.

The four principal soloists here, however, formed a strong team, impressive in solos and ensembles alike: Nicola Edgecombe a brightly-shining soprano, Kate Spence a warmtoned alto, John Murray a clear and confident tenor, and Chris Bruerton a sensitive and wellmodulated bass. The choir sang with accuracy and assurance throughout, both in the dancelike choruses and in the more reflective chorales, the outnumbered tenors on the whole coping manfully with their soaring lines, the sopranos excelling in their two chorales with bass soloist, and one, Catherine Daly, beautifully echoing the soloist in one item.

The Southern Sinfonia gave splendid and unflagging support, always setting the pace with verve and precision. Special mention must be made of Sydney Manowitz's violin solos and his duet with Sandra Crawshaw, Nicholas Cornish's incredible staying power on the oboe, the stylish continuoplaying of David Murray (cello) and John van Buskirk (chamber organ), and the brilliance of trumpets and horns.

Overseeing and masterfully uniting these forces was David Burchell, who doubled as harpsichordist and conductor. He should feel proud of his achievement, for if the necessary cuts in this long work may have caused some un-Bach-like harmonic jolts, and if the omission of the pastoral sinfonia from Cantata 2 caused particular distress, I am sure that St Cecilia, whose special day November 22 also was, smiled down on his devoted attention to one of her most famous sons.

About the reviewer:
A native of northern England, Donald Cullington graduated in Classics at Cambridge before qualifying as a musician (with a BMus at Durham, a DMus at Edinburgh, etc.). His musical career - as pianist, organist, choirtrainer and teacher - spans four decades so far, and has included four years (1975-78) as Director of Music at St Paul's Cathedral in Dunedin, and twenty-eight years in Northern Ireland as initiator, developer and (for many years) Head of the Music Department at the University of Ulster.

Publication: Otago Daily Times; Date: Nov 24, 2008; Page Number: 4

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Bach Christmas Oratorio, from the Soprano Section

We sang the Bach Christmas Oratorio last night.

And we rocked.

Yay. I'll say it again. In red, just to prove a point: We rocked!

What a huge work. What an awesome concert. What an amazing choir. What fabulous soloists. What a terrific orchestra. What a wonderful conductor.

I think everyone was nervous to begin with. I know I was. It didn't help that those terrible lights were so hot that I felt like I was sitting in a sauna. Before we were up to the ninth movement, my hands were firmly stuck to the PVC of my folder, and the sweat (yes, I know ladies are supposed to 'perspire' but I was sweating!) was starting to bead on my brow. Jenny Craig's new method - weight loss via Oratorio.

I'd like to say things soon settled into a groove, but for me they didn't. Every movement had edge-of-my-seat nervousness, and it was not helped by a spell of dizziness early on that left me feel disoriented and out of sorts. Being right up the back of the choir suits me well - I like to rely on myself rather than others - but in this case, feeling unwell, I'd have preferred to be a little less out on a limb, tucked in neatly down front with a bit more sound to fall back on for a while. Oh well.

The soloists did a great job. I did feel particularly sorry for the Tenor in Aria 41: Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben. Bach was just cruel to make this a da capo. Getting through this once was bad enough, and then the poor dude had to do it all again! Nasty.

Speaking of which I am not, and never will be, a fan of da capo. It's a bit of cheat. Run out of music, so chuck in a repeat and get everyone to do it all again. You could see people in the audience thinking 'huh?' Off with da capo, I say!

The concert had some top moments. Highlights included 1: Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage and 43: Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen. I think Bach works his best when smashing the fast stuff, and that was where we too performed better. Maybe we sensed when Bach was on a high, and that motivated us. Maybe his wee ghostie was lurking up in the Gods, looking down on us sneeringly. Who knows? But we definitely grooved in the fast paced items far more than in the slower movements.

bach - was his ghostie with us?

One audience member claims she saw an elderly gentleman (pictured, above) leaving The Gods after City Choir's performance of the Bach Christmas Oratorio. He did not pay for his ticket and is wanted for questioning.

Some of the arias were done beautifully, and a highlight was Aria 39, with the Echo Soprano. Stunning work, especially by the lovely Echo (Catherine, from St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, as a ring-in). Hearing voices work beautifully together is always a pleasure to the senses, and this was an excellent example.

What did I enjoy most? Hard to say, really. I like the tricky stuff, but that's just me. I find the slower, grander stuff a bit on the dull side, and don't really enjoy it as much as the music that rocks along. So I guess I preferred the fast movements. I think the audience preferred them too.

If there was a weakness in the concert, it would be that I did feel that the choir as a whole didn't get 'into' the music as much as we could have. What I mean by that is that it didn't quite feel as though people around me were sensing the pulse and meter of the work as well as they might. Music isn't just about notes and precision - it's about recognising the underlying patterns and beats and feeling that.

When a piece of music gets into you, and you grab it, you really don't have to see the conductor's beat, because it's there inside you. What you watch for instead is interpretation, cut-offs and expression. It's the conductor's face and fingertips, not their arms, that matter, once the music 'clicks' and you get beyond the note-bashing stage. The little timepiece inside you gets going, and the conductor's beat moves in step with your own.

I felt like there were points in this work where we didn't quite get to the stage of having that little clockwork chickybabe (or guy) inside of each of us going ticka ticka ticka ticka, or ta-ta-ta ta-ta-ta ta-ta-ta the whole time. But you probably think I'm a bit of a weirdo for writing all this. It's just the way I work with music, and maybe everyone is different. Heck - maybe I am a weirdo! ;-)

What we did get right was watching for changes in tempo and cut-offs. The Oratorio, as a whole, was pretty neatly done. We watched pretty well, and there weren't too many dragging movements. This is no small achievement in a choir of our size. Getting forward movement happening in a choir this size can sometimes be a bit like herding cats - you really have to push!

Well, we did it! What can we tackle next? If I had my way, I'd be buckling down for a bash at Handel's funkiest piece, Dixit Dominus. Of course, it's not up to me, but I figured it can't hurt to suggest the good stuff as you're all reading this! I'll post a link to a Youtube recording of Dixit. Please take the time to listen - you'll be drooling for a go at Dixit too!

So well done everyone! (Pats self on back). Thanks to all the excellent Sopranos around me. Thanks to the *sigh*worthy Altos, who sounded gorgeous from where I was standing. Thanks to our excellent men, who nailed their entrances, so David didn't have to cut you up into iddy biddy little pieces with a big, big knife after all. Finally, while speaking of the man, thanks to our amazing conductor David, who really deserves a break in the Caribbean after all this, with a few cocktails - and no choristers!

So - whadayareckon - here's Handel's Dixit Dominus. Want to give it a go? "Ohhhhhhhh, yeah" is the correct response!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Concert on 22 November: Christmas Oratorio

Stained glass window.Don't miss the performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio on Saturday 22 November, at 7:30pm in the Dunedin Town Hall.

Conductor: David Burchell
* Nicola Edgecombe (soprano)
* Kate Spence (mezzo soprano)
* John Murray (tenor)
* Chris Bruerton (bass)

supported by the Southern Sinfonia

Unlike his Passion settings and the oratorios of his contemporary, Handel, Bach conceived the Christmas Oratorio as a set of six cantatas to be performed on separate days over the Twelve Days of Christmas, beginning on Christmas Day and ending on Epiphany (January 6).

As with his Passion settings, the Evangelist (tenor soloist) carries the narrative, using familiar Gospel texts. The other soloists perform dramatic roles, such as the Angel and Herod, and also sing arias which reflect on the significance of the story.
The chorus contributes the parts of 'the heavenly host', the shepherds and the Wise Men, as well as chorales and extended choruses which are the corner stones of the cantatas.

A little bit of history...

Our archives show that we have performed this work only twice before. Looking at the dates it seems there is a performance roughly once in every generation, so be sure not to miss this opportunity!

12 November 1968, at John McGlashan Chapel, with Judith Galloway (soprano), Ruth Harman (alto), Ross Mayhew (tenor), Maurice Taylor (bass), with the Dunedin Civic Orchestra and conductor Peter Platt.

3 December 1985, in the Dunedin Town Hall with Ainslie Bannister (soprano), Rosemary Turnbull (alto), Anthony Benfell (tenor), Roger Wilson (bass), Vivienne McLean (harpsichord), with the Dunedin Sinfonia and conducted by Ray White.

Don't miss this wonderful music! Tickets are on sale now at Ticketek at the Regent in Dunedin, or online.

Visit and join our Concert Watch e-list.

After the concert, please feel free to leave your comments here. Tell us what you thought of the performance, we'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Note bashing for Christmas Oratorio

Calling all choristers! Want to do some note bashing at home in preparation for the 22 November performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio?

Here's just a wee reminder of this wonderful resource that Leslie Leong (bass) pointed out to us some time ago:

I've used it - it's really awesome!!! Just wish they's slow down some of the fast movements so I could get my tongue around the words. It would have been nice if they had a slow version and an up-to-speed version of each midi (for each voice), at least of the fast choruses.

Only 11 sleeps to go until the big night!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Exhortations, Admonitions and Rebukes!

Well the extra rehearsal this morning was fun wasn't it? But then I always enjoy myself at rehearsals. I love pulling faces at the tenors during the warm-up, particularly the ha ha ha bits. I love the gentle rebukes, admonitions, exhortations and endless list of instructions!

For this Bach, there are an alarming number of trills, which I've never attempted before. After Tuesday's rehearsal, I know I'll have to have a private session in the shower to get them sort of sorted. David told us we "cannot shy away from the trills, even if it's just the first note then wobbling a bit. They're called ornaments and are there to adorn the music." OK maestro, I'll have to have a proper go.

Also on Tuesday we seemed to have problems keeping to time. Which amateur choir doesn't I wonder? But how many of them are treated to such gentle admonishments, such as "you don't have time to put your knitting down here", and "come along, it's like taking a reluctant dog for a walk."

Talking of animals. It reminds me of when we sang Mozart's Requiem under the baton of Ryusuke Numajiri. His English was far from fluent. But he made it quite quite clear that we were not to be floppy jellyfish; we had to shoot an arrow directly at the bull's-eye. Tecwyn Evans didn't use any animal metaphors. During the warm-up for Poulenc's Gloria he wanted us to be bus or lorry engines. Can't now remember why.

Today, being a special rehearsal meant that we had a longer break than usual with a cuppa. This clearly brought its own problems "Anyone who sings in the rest", said David, "has to do the washing-up". Yeah well no prizes for guessing who sang in the very next rest, talk about auto-suggestion! Afterwards we still were dragging things a bit "too many biscuits," he said, "you've gone a bit stodgy."

The instructions on the Chorales are giving me some amusement. I've written Brisk (twice), Broad (twice), Solid, Statley, Strong but Graceful, Questioning and Crisp, Majestic. Facetiousness got the better of me on Tuesday. A remark, made to myself really, was overheard, so I had to repeat it out loud "The last pair sound like a brandname don't you think? Majestic Crisps?" Guess you had to be there really. Then there's the Urgency with a Unity of Purpose (which means, explained David being together!) [rats not again!!] for the 'Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem' chorus.

Despite the problems mentioned above I think this Christmas Oratorio is shaping up really nicely, it'll be a great concert. Not far off now - Yikes!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Christmas Oratorio on YouTube

I have pasted in one link to a beautiful aria. This is from Cantata No 2. If you want to find more music from Christmas Oratorio, just type in Bach Christmas Oratorio. Quite a lot of the choruses are there.

This aria is wonderful. It goes on for ages, but it is all great.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Its bite is worse than its Bach!

Am I the only soprano who is thinking AUGGGGGHHHH! after our first rehearsal on the Bach?

There were a few places where I thought I had things nailed, then we'd go over them, and everything fell apart again. Well - not everything, but certainly some places were rather fudgy. Ugh. Not good.

I found some of the rhythms and intervals quite difficult to manage, and from the nasty combination of uneasy silence and incorrect notes and rhythms around me, I don't think I was the only one.

So I am wondering whether there are any sectional rehearsals planned, or if anyone is interested in organising impromptu sectionals to go over problem areas? I'm singing sop., but I would imagine the need is there in other voice parts as well.

If so, please comment. If not, I guess I'll just slog away on my own at home in extra time, until I get things right.