The Dallas Morning News
, December 2005
BACH PILGRIMAGE: Recorded in a smallish church in Weimar, Germany, this was one of a whole series of Bach cantata performances John Eliot Gardiner presented in Germany during 2000, the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. The second disc includes a documentary, with visits to churches Bach knew.
SETTING THE MOOD: The "Christmas Oratorio" is actually a set of six cantatas, each for a different day during the Christmas season, and each has its own sound world. Trumpets and drums set a celebratory tone for the first cantata; pairs of rustic oboes d'amore and oboes da caccia evoke the shepherds in the second.
INVIGORATING: These are lively performances in the modern/historically informed manner; appropriately, the music never feels far from the dance. The period-instruments chamber orchestra plays fabulously, even the valveless trumpets and horns apparently posing no challenges. The 20-voice choir is superb, too. Occasionally, though – as in the opening chorus of cantata five and the tenor aria in cantata four – Mr. Gardiner pushes tempos into breathlessness.
SOLOISTS: Christoph Genz is a dream Evangelist, his tenor sweetly liquescent, his delivery vivid; too bad Mr. Gardiner so harries him in "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben." Baritone Dietrich Henschel sings handsomely when he doesn't overdo the bluster. Claron McFadden is a fetching soprano soloist; mezzo Bernarda Fink is OK, but the beat in her voice can be a little obtrusive.