Christmas Oratorio is topical, it’s also universal. It doesn’t require lights or tinsel or presents under the tree to instruct, inspire, and/or entertain, especially if it is presented in as fine a performance as this one fashioned by Stephen Layton and his cohort. Layton is the director of music at Trinity College, Cambridge (having succeeded Richard Marlow), and his choir is top-notch, as is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, mercifully identified as OAE. OAE’s roster is rife with such familiar names from the period instruments movement as Margaret Faultless (who is just that here) and Alison Bury. To mention Anthony Robson, oboe, and David Blackadder, trumpet, is not to slight any of the other players. Layton’s solo quartet is outstanding, too. James Gilchrist is always excellent, but never more so than here, doubling as Evangelist and soloist. Iestyn Davies has risen to the top rank of countertenors. Katherine Watson’s sweet soprano and Matthew Brook’s resonant bass are no less gratifying. Layton’s direction is near perfect, on the mark from start to finish. I’ve long treasured John Eliot Gardiner’s Christmas Oratorio , but Sir John will have to make room Stephen Layton at the top of my list. (George Chien)
In the historic Weimar Herder Church Sir John Eliot Gardiner finds the perfect setting for his recording of the Bach Christmas Oratorio. Against the backdrop of the dramatic altar and Lucas Granach paintings, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists perform Gardiner's new interpretation of this classic piece. With this interpretation of the Christmas Oratorio, Gardiner shows himself once again to be an incontestible specialist of Bach's music.
Substantially culled from a couple of earlier secular cantatas, Bach’s 1734 present to the churchgoers of Leipzig revels in such elevated recycling that it’s not impossible Bach had the Christmas Oratorio at the back of his mind from the very start. Stephen Layton unwraps it with all due festive pomp and circumstance. Part V’s ‘Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen’ bowls along with irrepressible ebullience, and the majestic opening of Part V is powered by a confident, striding energy. Yet some tempos play a little safe; Layton’s measured, well-manicured approach may exude a quiet authority, but Masaaki Suzuki’s lightness of touch and René Jacobs’s theatricality give a dash more seasonal sparkle.