DW Festival Concert: Bach′s Christmas Oratorio | Music | DW | 22.12.2021

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Music

DW Festival Concert: Bach's Christmas Oratorio

The life of Jesus Christ is probably the world's most narrated story, but the 2021 Bach Festival in Leipzig still managed a premiere with its uniquely original presentation.

Listen to audio 116:42

DW Festival Concert: Bach's Christmas Oratorio

The world-famous St. Thomas Choir and the chance to visit the places where Bach lived and worked are reason enough for some 73,000 visitors per year from around the world to travel to Leipzig for the Bach Festival. That, at least, was the pre-pandemic figure.

In 2021, the festival's concerts were livestreamed around the world, but a few lucky people still got to attend concerts at the churches of St. Nicholas and St. Thomas in person.

The focus of this year's event was a monumental creative undertaking: a giant Bach cycle — created by festival director Michael Maul — that combined choral pieces composed by Bach to tell the story of Jesus Christ. Maul named it "Bach's Messiah."

Watch video 04:22

Saxophone in a monastery

"Bach composed about two hundred cantatas [musical compositions for one or more voices] and many of them deal with certain occasions in Jesus' life. I put together all those cantatas in the right chronology and this all together creates a cycle of twelve concerts performing thirty-three cantatas, three oratorios and St. Matthew's Passion."

Moving music

Our episode features two period orchestras. This means the musicians play on historic instruments and in a historically-informed style, which involves reproducing the original sound with instruments contemporary to the era when the piece was composed.

The orchestras in this episode include the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and The Academy for Early Music Berlin. Various soloists and the famous St. Thomas boys' choir also feature.

We've selected some of the most beautiful and moving pieces for today's show, starting with "Du Wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn," meaning, "You true God and son of David." The song tells the story of a blind man whom Jesus met on the road to Jericho. The man asks Jesus to help him and is cured of his blindness.

Bach used the cantata in 1723 to apply to be the Thomaskantor, or music director, at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Legend has it that he originally wrote the oboe parts too high — so high, in fact, that it wasn't playable. Just before his audition, he is said to have quickly transposed the parts into a lower key.

The next cantata was written for the feast of the Annunciation, which celebrates Mary's being with child, and the angel Gabriel's message to her that she will give birth to Jesus Christ. It is titled "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern," or "How beautifully the morning star shines."

Even though this cantata is cataloged as Bach's first work, that doesn't mean it was the first piece he composed. The catalog system was developed in 1950, centuries after the composer's death, to organize Bach's work thematically.

The Christmas Oratorio

Maul's cycle also included one of Bach's most famous choral works: his Christmas Oratorio. It tells the story of Jesus' birth and adoration, but also of those who saw the child as an enemy. It has six parts, but only parts one through three are usually performed.

Man carries a frame with a poster bearing the image of Jesus

Michael Maul, artistic director of the Leipzig Bach Festival

When it comes to the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, many events are described differently, or even take place in a different order.

That's why Bach Festival director Michael Maul used Pope Benedict's biography of Jesus when putting together his musical retelling of Jesus' life. Maul exchanged numerous letters with the pope in the process, and the pope ultimately wrote the foreword to the 2021 Bach Festival program.

"And I'm happy, that we, so to speak, created a project which actually is above the religious borders," Maul said, adding, "Today, the Bach world is not a Protestant world anymore. All across the globe, you have people who love Bach's music, no matter what religion they are, no matter if they are believers or not."

And that's all in this edition of DW Festival Concert. Join us next time with our host, Cristina Burack.

Performances featured in this episode of DW Festival Concert:

1. Johann Sebastian Bach, "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn," BWV 23; Excerpts: ''Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn'' (Aria),  ''Ach! gehe nicht vorüber'' (Recitative) and "Aller Augen warten, Herr'' (Chorus)

Performers:

Ilse Eerens, soprano

Maarten Engeltjes, countertenor

Tilman Lichdi, tenor

Klaus Mertens, bass

Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir

Conducted by: Ton Kopeman

Recorded by the Bach Festival Leipzig in St. Nicholas Church, Leipzig on June 11, 2021

2. Johann Sebastian Bach, "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern," BWV 1
Excerpts: ''Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern'' (Chorus), 'Du wahrer Gottes und Marien Sohn'' (Recitative) and "Erfüllet, ihr himmlischen göttlichen Flammen" (Aria)

Ilse Eerens, soprano

Maarten Engeltjes, countertenor

Tilman Lichdi, tenor

Klaus Mertens, bass

Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir

Conducted by: Ton Kopeman

Recorded by the Bach Festival Leipzig in St. Nicholas Church, Leipzig on June 11, 2021

3. Johann Sebastian Bach, Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, Part IV "Immanuel, o süßes Wort!" (Recitative with Chorale), "Flößt mein Heiland" (Aria), "Wohlan, dein Name soll allein" (Recitative with Chorale) 

Performed by: Gerlinde Sämann, soprano

Elvira Bill, alto

Tobias Hunger, tenor

Martin Petzold, tenor

Tobias Berndt, bass

St. Thomas Choir

Orchestra of the Academy for Early Music Berlin

Conducted by: Gotthold Schwarz

Recorded by the Bach Festival Leipzig in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig on June 12, 2021

4. Johann Sebastian Bach, Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, Part V

"Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen" (Chorus), "Wo ist der neugeborne König der Jüden?" (Chorus and Recitative), "Dein Glanz all' Finsternis verzehrt" (Chorale) "Ach, wenn wird die Zeit erscheinen" (Trio)

Performed by:

Gerlinde Sämann, soprano

Elvira Bill, alto

Tobias Hunger, tenor

Martin Petzold, tenor

Tobias Berndt, bass

St. Thomas Choir

Orchestra of the Academy for Early Music Berlin

Gotthold Schwarz, conductor

Recorded by the Bach Festival Leipzig in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig on June 12, 2021

5. Johann Sebastian Bach, Christmas Oratorio, BVW 248, Part VI

Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier" (Chorale), "Und Gott befahl ihnen im Traum" (Recitative), "So geht!" (Recitative), "Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schrecken" (Aria), "Was will der Höllen Schrecken nun" (Recitative), "Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen" (Chorale)

Performed by:

Gerlinde Sämann, soprano

Elvira Bill, alto

Tobias Hunger, tenor

Martin Petzold, tenor

Tobias Berndt, bass

St. Thomas Choir

Orchestra of the Academy for Early Music Berlin

Conducted by: Gotthold Schwarz

Recorded by the Bach Festival Leipzig in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig on June 12, 2021

6. Johann Sebastian Bach, "Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren," BWV 154

''Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren'' (Aria), 'Wisset ihr nicht'' (Arioso), ''Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht'' (Chorus)

Performed by:

Tereza Zimkova, soprano

Benno Schachtner, countertenor

Felix Schwandtke, bass

Tomas Kral, bass

Lucas Pohle, organist

Collegium Vocale 1704

Collegium 1704

Conducted by: Vaclav Luks

Recorded by the Bach Festival Leipzig in St. Nicholas Church, Leipzig on June 13, 2021

7.  Johann Sebastian Bach, "Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen," BWV 81
Excerpts: "Ihr Kleingläubigen, warum seid ihr so furchtsam?'' (Arioso), ''Schweig, aufgetürmtes Meer!'' (Aria), ''Wohl mir, mein Jesus spricht ein Wort'' (Recitative), Unter deinen Schirmen" (Chorus)

Performed by: RIAS Chamber Choir Berlin

Orchestra of the Academy for Early Music Berlin

Conducted by: Justin Doyle

Recorded by the Bach Festival Leipzig in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig on June 13, 2021

8. Johann Sebastian Bach, "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis," BWV 21

Excerpts: Sinfonia, "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis'' (Chorus), "Ach Jesu, meine Ruh" (Chorus), "Erfreue dich, Seele, erfreue" (Aria), "Das Lamm, das erwürget ist" (Chorus)

Performed by: St. Thomas Choir

Saxon Baroque Orchestra

Conducted by: Gotthold Schwarz

Recorded by the Bach Festival Leipzig in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig on June 20, 2021

Produced at Deutsche Welle with sound engineer Thomas Schmidt, producer and Russian show host Anastassia Boutsko, and host Cristina Burack. Text and production by Gaby Reucher.

Edited by: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

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