J S Bach, RIAS Kammerchor and Kammerorchester, Karl Ristenpart - Christmas Oratorio

Published Friday 29th November 2013
J S Bach, RIAS Kammerchor and Kammerorchester, Karl Ristenpart - Christmas Oratorio
J S Bach, RIAS Kammerchor and Kammerorchester, Karl Ristenpart  - Christmas Oratorio

STYLE: Choral
RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
LABEL: Audite 21421

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

Following the Bach cantatas edition with Karl Ristenpart (1900-1967), the German label Audite now continue their series of historic recordings from the archives of RIAS (Radio In the American Sector) Berlin with a complete recording of the Christmas Oratorio. As soloists, Ristenpart engaged leading Bach singers of the time, thus ensuring that the recitatives of the Evangelist (Helmut Krebs), the arias and ensembles were of particularly high quality. Alongside the RIAS Chamber Choir and the RIAS Chamber Orchestra a recording was created in December 1950 which both validly represents Bach interpretation of that time, and also heralds, notably in Parts 4 and 5, historically-informed performance practice. Ristenpart responded to the accession to power by the Nazis in 1933 by retreating to work with chamber ensembles: a sphere which was able mostly to escape interference by the state authority. The Nazis felt that Wagner was the bringer of a new era; Ristenpart countered with Bach: the 'Wagner Ring' vs. the 'Bach Ring' with Wagner's 'Ring' depicting the demise of Germanic gods and heroes being opposed by the Bach cantata cycle concerning the emergence of Christianity and its Saviour. After the war, Ristenpart championed a cultural ideal which turned away from the drive for monumentalism. In this, Bach served him as a catalyst for mental renewal and as a guide to retreat from the craze surrounding Wagner. Ristenpart's decisions of the 1930's thus permeate his Bach interpretations in the cantatas as well as the Christmas Oratorio of 1950. This recording is thus of historical significance and cannot be blamed for sounding its age. In fact the vocalists come through well although the instruments occasionally sound distant. Yes, there are more recent recordings available but Ristenpart's take is well worth hearing and Bach's music is, as always, sublime.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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