J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings


Main Performer
or Conductor:
Kurt Thomas
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Thomanerchor, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Soloists:Agnes Giebel (soprano)
Marga Höffgen (contralto)
Josef Traxel (tenor)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
Individual Works:Christmas Oratorio BWV 248
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Berlin Classics
Catalog Number:0021912 BC
Year Released/Recorded:1958
Total Playing Time:170:26
Comments:Henning Böke said:

If I was asked to recommend a straight, "neutral" record of the Christmas Oratorio, suitable for someone who wants to get acquainted with this work, this one could be a good choice (but for Germans only because the CD booklet does not contain any comments and translations; the lyrics are presented as a facsimile of the 1734 print which might be, because of its old Fraktur and Schwabacher typefaces, unreadable for a non-German even if he understands German).

I would perhaps recommend this record because it gives a wonderfully clear impression of the composition; neither the--in my opinion problematic--"authentic" sound of period instruments nor the subjectivity of Karl Richter, whom I like very much, but whose free, creative treatment of instrumentation and continuo playing might be a bit confusing for an unexperienced listener. Kurt Thomas' record made in Leipzig in 1958 and republished on CD by the Berlin Classics label in the nineties, is well-balanced, plain, without any exaggeration and may be appreciated by the beginner as well as by the connoisseur. Some of the tempi are unusually slow, but the sound is transparent. The trumpets are not so loud and blaring as e.g. Karl Richter liked them; by this an astonishing revelation of orchestral details in the introductory "Jauchzet, frohlocket" is possible. The level of the singing is thoroughly high.

One interesting detail may be mentioned: Experts argue about the question of continuo playing in the secco recitatives--should the bass notes be held as written, or must they be shortened? Normally they were written as long notes; in some special cases (St Matthew Passion and a few cantatas) Bach wrote short notes, obviously to give his players exact instructions. In thorough bass textbooks we find different information: Some (especially in the later eighteenth century) say that the recitative bass notes should be shortened, but without instructions what should be done if on a held bass note the harmony changes (shall the organ/harpsichord player omit the following chords or play them with his right hand?), some others (mainly the earlier ones) say that especially on the organ the bass note should be held, but the right hand could be lifted after striking the chord by several reasons. Kurt Thomas chose this method. This is a good flexible way to show the harmonic progression discreetly without harassing the singer whith too much background noise.

J. Sweaney said:

Three things stand out about this recording, which I heartily recommend. First, the boys' choir sings marvelously, and the higher voices have a special quality that women's voices cannot match. Second, the bassoon is used more often than the 'cello in the basso continuo, which lends a sprightly air and helps to propel the music forward. Third, the soloists all do a great job of molding the emotional message of the text into the contours of the musical lines, especially Fischer-Dieskau. In summary, this recording is robust, vital, almost earthy, totally eschewing the effete fussiness which has crept into two many recent Baroque recordings.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Henning Böke
  • J. Sweaney
Date First Submitted:04/06/2000