Diethard Hellmann

Camille Saint-Saëns: Christmas Oratorio

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Profil's reissue of its 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. The sound is adequate, but is sometimes slightly distant. With a running time of less than 40 minutes, the CD could have used some filling out, perhaps with a few of the composer's many excellent liturgical choral works.

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