Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas with the Faces of Classical Music

Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 (Cantatas I, II, III and VI) – Anna Lucia Richter, Stefanie Irányi, Maximilian Schmitt, Roderick Williams, RIAS-Kammerchor, Freiburger Barockorchester, Hans-Christoph Rademann (HD 1080p)

Under the baton of the German choral conductor Hans-Christoph Rademann, the RIAS-Kammerchor, the Freiburger Barockorchester, and the soloists Anna Lucia Richter (soprano), Stefanie Irányi (mezzo-soprano), Maximilian Schmitt (tenor) and Roderick Williams (baritone) perform Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio / Weihnachtsoratorium, BWV 248. Recorded live on December 17, 2016 at the KKL Luzern, Konzertsaal (Concert Hall in Luzern, Switzerland).

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German Christmas Carols – Windsbacher Knabenchor, Martin Lehmann, Modern Slide Quartett (HD 1080p)

Under the baton of the distinguished choral director Martin Lehmann, the German choir of boys and young men in Windsbach, the Windsbacher Knabenchor sings German Christmas carols. Participates the Modern Slide Quartett. Recorded live in HD on December 20, 2015 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, during the Sunday Morning Concert.

The Windsbach Boys Choir is one of the leading ensembles of its kind. Sacred music – spanning from the Renaissance to the present – forms the core of its repertoire. In addition to many a cappella pieces, the major oratorios of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Stravinsky are its primary focus...

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The King's Singers: Christmas Songbook (Audio video)

It has been ten years since The King's Singers' last full-production Christmas album, called simply "Christmas". That album was quite traditional in style, bringing together a number of contemporary and traditional carols and giving the feel of an Advent or Christmas carol service. It continues to be popular amongst audiences around the world, but more and more often we have been asked when the next Christmas offering would surface. That time has now come.

Having completed "The Great American Songbook" project a few years ago, the group started to look at a Christmas equivalent. We looked at the seasonal songs performed by The Rat Pack and their contemporaries, and found many that we loved, but decided to draw up a balanced track list to include popular carols as well as jazz songs. With The King's Singers' 50th Anniversary approaching, as well as the 100th Anniversary of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge – the spiritual home of the group – the result is a disc that pays homage to our roots whilst acknowledging our current penchant for swing...

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The King's Singers: Christmas Presence (Audio video)

This new programme of "seasonal favourites" from The King's Singers takes us from the austere beauty of medieval plainsong right up to the present day and was recorded live in King's College Chapel, the group's spiritual home.

The essence of The King's Singers has always been live performance. Commercial recordings are hugely important as a way of disseminating our material, and the group has always been committed to a comprehensive recording programme, but for us the best of both worlds is represented on this disc: a live concert recording.

Christmas Presence gives the listener the experience of being at a live King's Singers concert, in one of the world's most beautiful buildings (and acoustics!) from the comfort of their own home. You can be assured that there is nothing here other than what we produced on the night itself; and what better a season to celebrate with music than Christmas?

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The Christmas Story – Theatre of Voices, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Paul Hillier (Audio video)

The idea behind this recording was shaped by the English tradition of Nine Lessons and Carols. Like the story of Christmas itself, this tradition had humble beginnings. A thousand years ago, Cornwall (in the southwest of England) was joined to the Diocese of Devon under the Bishop of Exeter. It was only many centuries later – in 1877 – that it was finally given its own diocese once again, this time at Truro. A new cathedral was immediately planned, but while it was being built services had to be held in a temporary wooden building – often referred to as a "hut", but large enough to hold 400 parishioners. This is where, on Christmas Eve 1880, the first service of "Nine Lessons and Carols" was given and, unwittingly perhaps, a new tradition was created...

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Orlando di Lasso: Laudate Dominum – Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Andrew McAnerney (Audio video)

In the fall of 1556, when he was about 26 years old, Orlande de Lassus (also Orlando di Lasso, Roland de Lassus, Orlandus Lassus) was hired as a tenor in the court of Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria. Lassus, originally from Mons, had already travelled in France and Italy as a member of Ferrante Gonzaga's chapel choir, and worked in Rome as maestro di cappella of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran when it was serving as the mother church of the capital of Catholicism while Saint Peter's Basilica was being rebuilt. Albrecht V wanted his musical establishment to be a prestigious one; during its good years it numbered as many as 90 singers and instrumentalists. Lassus' genius and capacity for work were soon noticed. In 1563, he succeeded Ludwig Daser as maestro di cappella and, for the rest of his life, apart from numerous trips to recruit singers and instrumentalists, remained in this post...

Mary Star of the Sea – Gothic Voices (Download 44.1kHz/16bit)

For centuries the figure of Mary has deeply fascinated the devotees of European religious culture. The canonic bible seems to make up only a small proportion of what has been related on this subject amongst the proliferation of myths, legends, poetry and universal lore it has infused, and the culture and mentality it has permeated. Such a central subject of devotion will of course have provided much opportunity and inspiration for artists – not least composers of music – and the programme sequence here celebrates the biblical matriarch in the various images that have grown up around this continuous fascination: guiding light, mediator, caring mother and virgin lover to name a few. Ancient liturgical texts and poems explore her various mythical and human aspects and are set to music by masters of medieval England, offset by contemporary responses to these themes...

The Deer's Cry – William Byrd, Arvo Pärt, Thomas Tallis – The Sixteen, Harry Christophers (Audio video)

Whilst coming from very different eras, William Byrd and Arvo Pärt are both considered masters of sacred music despite having faced considerable persecution for their work. This programme presents six of William Byrd's works from the Cantiones sacrae including the monumental Tribue, Domine, and the mighty eight-voice motet Ad Dominum cum tribularer. Also featured are works by Thomas Tallis including Miserere nostri which is now believed to have been written in collaboration with Byrd. The three works by Arvo Pärt speak in his unmistakable voice, with its unique blend of ancient and modern, and include his mesmerising Nunc dimittis which is crafted in his bell-like "tintinnabuli" style...

Psallat ecclesia – Ragnhild Hadland, Schola Solensis, Halvor J. Østtveit (Audio video)

What we call Gregorian chant is old music. By the 13th century most of it was already composed. It is the church's oldest musical treasure, and is the word of God spoken, and prayers prayed, in a language where the word is lifted and born on wings of exquisite beauty. It is not just a language of words, but a meeting of words and melody in an expression of extraordinary power. Gregorian chant developed over a long period of oral transmission from generation to generation. If there is an evolutionary theory for artistic expression, a sort of "survival of the fittest", it can certainly be used about Gregorian chant. Many of these melodies are so unbelievably beautiful; it is as if we sense divine participation in their creation. There is an air of mysticism in this music, which more and more people are seeking as a setting for meditation and prayer...

The King's Singers: Joy to the World (Audio video)

The King's Singers, an all-male a cappella sextet, have issued an extraordinarily large range of recordings, most of them quite successful. But they may be at their best in a circumscribed setting like that of the Christmas album, which brings their innovative harmonies into the sharpest relief. In this seasonal collection they offer traditional Christmas carols given new levels of musical tension by the addition of repeated harmonic figures in the accompanying voices, clashing with but not destabliizing the melody. They include a few highly chromatic pieces, such as an arrangement by English-American composer Jeremy Lubbock of a Tchaikovsky hymn called "The Crown of Roses". And listeners will have to discover for themselves what to make of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Throughout, the trademark mixture of awesomely precise harmonies and equally awesome sense of enjoyment is fully in evidence, and they are backed here by the superior capabilities of Signum's engineering team, working in London's acoustically fine Cadogan Hall. A delightful holiday release...

Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 – Andreas Weller, Lenneke Ruiten, Cécile van de Sant, Alberto ter Doest, Panajotis Iconomou – Cappella Amsterdam, Combattimento Consort Amsterdam, Jan Willem de Vriend (HD 1080p)

Although German composer Johann Sebastian Bach entitled his work Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio), it is in fact closer to a cantata cycle than an oratorio. Composed and compiled for the Christmas season as celebrated in Leipzig in 1734 and early 1735, the six parts of the Christmas Oratorio were intended to be performed on the six major feast days over that 13-day period from December 25 through January 6: the "First Day of Christmas", the "Second Day of Christmas", the "Third Day of Christmas", the "Feast of the Circumcision", the "First Sunday of the New Year", and the "Feast of the Epiphany". Furthermore, each part of the work is designed to function as an independent musical unit; each part (except the second, which starts with a "Pastoral Symphony") begins and ends with choruses in the tonic key, and each part tells a separate part of the Christmas story.

Carols with St Paul's Cathedral Choir – Andrew Carwood, Simon Johnson (Audio video)

Andrew Carwood leads the men and boys of London's St Paul's Cathedral Choir in a joyous program of Christmas carols that is more or less the classic English choral concert heard in many churches on Christmas Eve. Most of the selections are familiar and expected, especially Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Holy Night, and O Come, All Ye Faithful. Yet a few pieces are included that are perhaps not as widely known, but heard often enough to warrant inclusion, such as the Renaissance hymn Gaudete, Philip Stopford's setting of Lully, Lulla, Lullay, The Shepherd's Farewell from Hector Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ, John Rutter's All Bells in Paradise, and Benjamin Britten's Friday Afternoons. Also significant is the first recording of Graham Jordan Ellis' affecting carol There Is No Rose. The recording of the choir and organ is clean with gorgeous resonance, though the ensemble's sound seems a bit recessed in the quieter numbers, so a boost in volume may be needed to hear every detail...

The King's Singers: Christmas Songbook – The Greene Space, New York – Thursday, December 1, 2016, 2:00 AM – Live on Livestream

In an exclusive New York appearance, The King's Singers, one of the world’s most celebrated vocal ensembles – consummate entertainers with a delightfully British wit –, perform selections from their new album, Christmas Songbook, featuring a mix of traditional carols and modern-day classics with a hint of swing.

New York: Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 7:00 PM

The King's Singers: Christmas Concert 2011 (HD 1080p)

One of the world's most celebrated ensembles, The King's Singers have a packed schedule of concerts, recordings, media and education work that spans the globe. Championing the work of young and established composers, they remain consummate entertainers; a class-act with a delightfully British wit. From Gesualdo and György Ligeti to Michael Bublé, The King's Singers are instantly recognisable for their spot-on intonation, impeccable vocal blend, the flawless articulation of the text and incisive timing.

This video performance recorded at LSO St Luke's in London sets an eclectic assortment of modern Christmas classics with special arrangements of some much loved favourites. Ranging from the beautiful simplicity of Michael Pretorius's Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen to the mad capers of Gordon Langford's arrangement of Deck the hall, this is a delightful programme which reflects a typical live King's Singers Christmas show...

Staatskapelle Dresden. New Year's Eve Concert 2015 – Lang Lang, Rinat Shaham, Lucas Meachem, Christian Thielemann (HD 1080p)

One of the classical world's most charismatic figures, Lang Lang thrills millions of concertgoers around the world. Watch now an exciting musical encounter when the Staatskapelle's Principal Conductor Christian Thielemann and his musicians are joined on stage by the Chinese star pianist as well as the singers Rinat Shaham and Lucas Meachem to interpret works by Edward Grieg, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter and Herman Hupfeld...

Christmas in Vienna 2015 – Valentina Naforniţa, Angelika Kirchschlager, Piotr Beczala, Artur Ruciński, ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, Erwin Ortner (HD 1080p)

A classic Christmassy repertoire and popular Christmas music from around the world also determine in the program this year this wonderful Christmas concert, which is transmitted by the ORF. The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Erwin Ortner, the Vienna Boys Choir and the Vienna Singing Academy are left in the festively decorated Vienna Konzerthaus, together with the four unique soloists (Valentina Naforniţa, Angelika Kirchschlager, Piotr Beczala, Artur Ruciński) and an unforgettable impression and put the audience as every year in the Christmas spirit...

In Nativitate Domine: Festliche Weihnachtsmusik – Emma Kirkby, Susanne Rydén, Annegret Siedel (Audio video)

The program consists of music composed in German-speaking countries in the seventeenth century. Heinrich Schütz and Michael Praetorius are the best-known composers represented, but most of the music comes from the generations after them, from the middle and later parts of the century. It is, for the most part, thoroughly Italian in style, with the exception of the Lutheran chorales that weave their way through it. These semi-dramatic treatments of various aspects of the Christmas story are mostly for two sopranos, and they're an ideal match for the pair of Britain's Emma Kirkby and Sweden's Susanne Rydén. Kirkby is one of the veterans of the early music vocal scene, and it's not too much to say that she helped provide the world with an alternative model of soprano virtuosity. Her voice has lost none of its liveliness, but it has a thicker quality than before. It makes an intriguing contrast with Rydén's more silvery instrument. The music for the most part avoids the virtuoso quality of Monteverdi's high monodic style; it depends more on interpretation and consistency of tone, both areas in which these singers excel...

Christmas in Vienna 2014 – Natalia Ushakova, Vesselina Kasarova, Dmitry Korchak, Artur Ruciński, ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, Sascha Goetzel

A classic Christmassy repertoire and popular Christmas music from around the world also determine in the program this year this wonderful Christmas concert, which is transmitted by the ORF. The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sascha Goetzel, the Vienna Boys Choir and the Vienna Singing Academy are left in the festively decorated Vienna Konzerthaus, together with the four unique soloists and an unforgettable impression and put the audience as every year in the Christmas spirit...

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Silent Night: Christmas Concert 2015 – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas Kraemer

A Christmas concert in baroque character with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the Gothenburg Symphony Choir. The Baroque expert Nicholas Kraemer directs the atmospheric program which includes Christmas classics as Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and O Holy Night...

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Heinrich Schütz: Christmas Vespers – Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh (Audio video)

"As it might have been celebrated at the Court of Dresden c. 1664". The subtitle of this recording is the key: there's no Schütz work called "Christmas Vespers", but by combining research in church archives with what is known of service music in Schütz' time, a Vespers service for Christmas can be reconstructed. Paul McCreesh is becoming somewhat of a specialist in such projects. Christmas Vespers in 17th-century Dresden, where Schütz was the senior Kapellmeister, would have been a musically elaborate culmination to a day already full of celebration and church-going. The eighty minutes of music here, while a substantial portion of the service, aren't actually the complete Vespers service (the sermon is omitted). What is here, however, is a disc chock-full of Christmas Schütz sung in a cathedral. The church acoustic gives the disc a sense of occasion; there are even two congregational hymns included, recorded from a different perspective than the choral portions of the service, giving an even greater sense of this being a recording of a church service rather than a studio recording. The effect of the whole is marvelous – Schütz' music is unparalleled and McCreesh and company give it an immensely successful presentation...

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata BWV 190 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

"Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" (Sing a new song to the Lord), BWV 190, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He wrote it in Leipzig for the New Year's Day and first performed it on 1 January 1724 as part of his first cantata cycle. He adapted it in 1730 to "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied", BWV 190a, for the celebration of the bicentennial of the Augsburg Confession.

The Cantata in seven movements is festively scored for alto, tenor and bass soloists, a four-part choir, three trumpets, timpani, three oboes, oboe d'amore, two violins, viola, and basso continuo including bassoon. The instrumentation is known from the extant closing chorale, although most parts for the first movements are lost.

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Cantata BWV 110 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the Christmas cantata "Unser Mund sei voll Lachens" (May our mouth be full of laughter), BWV 110, in Leipzig for Christmas Day and first performed it on 25 December 1725.

Bach composed the cantata in his third year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He used a text by Georg Christian Lehms, which was published already in 1711. The text has no recitatives alternating with arias, but instead three biblical quotations, opening with verses from Psalm 26, then a verse from the Book of Jeremiah about God's greatness, and finally the angels' song from the Nativity according to the Gospel of Luke. The closing chorale is taken from Caspar Füger's "Wir Christenleut"...

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Cantata BWV 63 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

Cantata 63 was written for the morning service on Christmas Day, 1723, in Leipzig. This was Bach's first big holiday at Leipzig, and no doubt this work helped make a very big and positive impression. Yet, Bach's choice of text makes no mention of the shepherds, the angels, or the wise men who are so associated with the Biblical versions of the Christmas story. Instead, Bach focuses on the joy that Christians must feel upon realizing that Jesus was born onto this world to save us from our sins.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Advent Cantata BWV 36 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

BWV 36 ("Soar joyfully aloft") has a particularly complex history. The version under consideration here represents Bach's reworking of a work that started life in 1725 as a secular cantata of the same name (BWV 36c). Composed to a libretto by the Leipzig civil servant and poet Picander (the pseudonym of the poet Christian Friedrich Henrici), the cantata was written as a birthday tribute to an unidentified Leipzig academic. The following year, Bach revived the work with a new text by Picander for the birthday of the wife of his old employer, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, with whom he maintained close contact after moving to Leipzig. This version, now lost, bears the name Steigt freudig in die Luft, BWV 36a. At some point between this second secular version and 1730, Bach decided to turn the work into a sacred cantata for Advent Sunday, adding a chorale and adapting it to a new text by an unknown author. In 1731, he returned to the work yet again, expanding it from five numbers to eight, while further restructuring and revising the existing numbers. Finally, in 1735, Bach returned the work to its secular origins using yet another new text, Die Freude reget sich (BWV 36b), probably also by Picander...

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Advent Cantata BWV 62 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

This is the second of two cantatas Bach based on Martin Luther's Advent hymn ("Come now, Savior of the heathen"), the other being an early Weimar cantata, BWV 61, dating from 1714. The present work was composed for Advent Sunday, 1724, and was given its first performance in Leipzig on December 3. It thus belongs to the second annual cycle (Jahrgang) of Leipzig cantatas and conforms to the type of so-called "chorale cantata" that dominates the 1724-1725 cycle. In keeping with such chorale-based works, Luther's hymn is used throughout, the opening and closing choruses incorporating the first and last verses, while the alternating arias and recitatives framed by the choruses are free poetic paraphrases of verses 2-7 of the hymn...

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Advent Cantata BWV 61 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

"Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" ("Now come, Savior of the heathens"), BWV 61, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Weimar for the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday which begins the liturgical year, and first performed it on 2 December 1714.

The cantata text was provided by Erdmann Neumeister, who quoted the Book of Revelation and framed his work by two hymn stanzas, the beginning of Martin Luther's "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland", the main hymn for Advent with a melody based on Medieval chant, and the end from Philipp Nicolai's "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern". The librettist quoted developed his thoughts like a sermon. Bach structured the cantata in six movements, beginning with a chorale fantasia, followed by a series of alternating recitatives and arias, and concluded by a four-part chorale. He scored it for three vocal soloists (soprano, tenor and bass), strings and continuo. Bach led the first performance on 2 December 1714. As Thomaskantor, director of music of the main churches of Leipzig, he performed the cantata again on 28 November 1723...

George Frideric Handel: Messiah – Susan Gritton, Cornelia Horak, Bejun Mehta, Richard Croft, Florian Boesch – Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi – Claus Guth, Hannes Rossacher (HD 1080p)

On the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Handel's death, Vienna's theater an der Wien, famous for innovative and unconventional opera productions, realized a unique and truly extraordinary project: the staging of one of Handel's most popular oratorios. For this production, the theater signed up one of the most renowned stage directors of our time, Claus Guth. The result: "an emotionally and psychologically charged sequence of images", as the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote about Guth's portrayal of a family dynasty, complete with guilt, betrayal, suicide and reconciliation. Conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi triumphs "with his phenomenal orchestra [ensemble Matheus] and the subtle Arnold Schoenberg Chor" (Süddeutsche Zeitung). Winner of the Diapason d'Or and the BBC Music Magazine award, the ensemble is internationally acclaimed for its interpretations of early music on authentic period instruments. Offering "the best of Handel vocal artistry" (Frankfurter Rundschau) are Cornelia Horak, Susan Gritton, Richard Croft and the sublime countertenor Bejun Mehta. Video director Hannes Rossacher, internationally known as one of the leading video directors for rock and pop events (Rolling Stones), has captured this unique performance of the oratorio on film...

Christmas in Vienna 2008 – Elīna Garanča, Juan Diego Flórez, Genia Kühmeier, Paul Armin Edelmann, Wiener Symphoniker, Karel Mark Chichon

Internationally acclaimed soloists Elīna Garanča and Juan Diego Flórez are joined by their distinguished colleagues Genia Kühmeier and Paul Armin Edelmann in this exuberant holiday concert recorded live in Vienna by Felix Breisach. In addition to many traditional Christmas carols, the soloists and the Wiener Sängerknaben also perform a variety of popular classics such as the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria" as well as "The trumpet shall sound" and the "Hallelujah" from Handel's Messiah.

Catalan, Peruvian and American Christmas carols and songs add an international note to the program, which also features a delightful collection of Old Viennese Christmas melodies. Sacred music is also writ large in this concert, with Mozart's "Laudate Dominum", Mascagni's "Ave Maria", Rossini's "Missa di Gloria", Franck's "Panis Angelicus" and the "Gloria" from Mozart's Mass KV257.

The Wiener Symphoniker are also allowed to give their best in a number of purely orchestral numbers, including Turina's "Fantasy Dance" and the "Farandole" from Bizet's "Arlésienne, Suite No.2". And to everyone who loves the unique sound of the world-renowned Wiener Sängerknaben, their rendition of "Holy Night" and "Leise rieselt der Schnee" is sure to provide great delight...

Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 – Tölzer Knabenchor, Concentus Musicus Wien, Peter Schreier, Robert Holl, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (HD 1080p)

Recorded in 1982 in the magnificent baroque church at Waldhaus, Austria, the stunning Christmas setting of this performance features exquisitely hand-carved Nativity figures and manger scene sure to bring out the holiday spirit in listeners everywhere.

Concentus Musicus Wien and the highly acclaimed Tölzer Knabenchor join brilliant soloists including Peter Schreier, all superbly directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016) – who proves himself once again as the master of old music and original period instruments.

Considered one of the world's leading specialists of Baroque music, Nikolaus Harnoncourt founded the "Concentus Musicus Wien" in 1953. It has since become one of the world's most respected ensembles specializing in the performance of early music on original instruments or faithful reproductions. With its opulent decor and gilt ornamentation, the Austrian Baroque church of Waldhausen provides a setting evocative of Bach's times. An added highlight of the program is the retelling of the Nativity story with the magnificent carved figures of two master wood-carvers of the Baroque period from Upper Austria. Also heard on the recording are thedistinguished tenor Peter Schreier, bass Robert Holl and the Tölzer Boys Choir...

Camille Saint-Saëns: Oratorio de Noël (Christmas Oratorio) – Bachchor und Bachorchester Mainz, Diethard Hellmann (Audio video)

Calig's 1976 recording of Saint-Saëns' Oratorio de Noël is a solid presentation of an extremely appealing work. Scored for five soloists, chorus, strings, harp, and organ, the oratorio lies within the capabilities of good church and community choirs, and could easily find a place in the repertoires of groups looking for an alternative to Messiah to celebrate the Christmas season. It's warmly, but not gushily Romantic, with gratifying vocal and choral writing, and both harmonic and contrapuntal richness and variety. Much of it resembles what Mendelssohn might have sounded like had he lived long enough to adopt a late-Romantic idiom. Several of the movements are strongly memorable, particularly the Prelude and Consurge, Filia Sion (with their nods to Bach's Weinachtsoratorium), the duet, Benedictus, and the trio Tecum principium. One of the standouts of this performance is the organ of Hans-Joachim Bartsch, whose sensitive playing and colorful choice of registration is especially striking. The choral singing and orchestral playing of Bachchor and Bachorchester Mainz, conducted by Diethard Hellmann is top notch – full and warmly nuanced. Sopranos Verena Schweizer, Edith Wiens, alto Helena Jungwirth, and tenor Friedrich Melzer sing beautifully, but bass Kurt Widmer is a little hooty...

Photo: Sol de Zuasnabar Brebbia/Moment/Getty Images

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