Album Review: The Christmas Album/ Berlin Philharmonic


Christmas in Germany – Stollen, drifts of snow, centuries old Christmas markets, gluhwein, children busking singing ancient carols in glorious descants and the ubiquitous brass bands in the town squares. It is a time like no other and recreating this atmosphere is the compilation release The Christmas Album from the Berlin Philharmonic and Deutsche Grammophon, featuring both seasonal and secular pieces.

The seventy five minutes of music has been compiled from recordings dating from 1956 to 1999 and so includes some notable personalities and rarely heard classics that are unique to the German repertoire. As it is defined as a Christmas collection, my three favourites favourite tracks would be two excerpts from JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 – the Sinfonia and the aria Grosser Herr, performed by the orchestra with bass Heinz Rehfuss and conducted by Fritz Lehmann, recorded in 1956, followed closely by the timeless Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen from 1977, recorded by the then brass ensemble of the orchestra.

The 1977 brass players also contribute music by the German Baroque trumpeter and violinist Johann Christoph Pezel, the Austrian carol Still, weil’s Kindlein schlafen will, and the traditional Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her. A 1987 recording of the entire orchestra performing the March from Tchaikowsky’s Nutcracker Suite conducted by Semyon Bychkov adds another layer to the variety, as do the 1966 tracks of Herbert von Karajan conducting orchestral arrangements of JS Bach’s Air from the Suite No 3 in D major BWV 1068, and the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No 2 in F major BWV, the latter with a concertante ensemble. Not strictly seasonal fare but it adds to the mood, as do the three selections by Mozart, the pick of these being the Agnus Dei from the Coronation Mass KV 317, conducted by James Levine with the resplendent soprano voice of Sylvia McNair. Abbado conducts the Laudate Dominum from Mozart’s Vespers and Karlheinz Zoller is the flautist and Nicanor Zabaleta the harpist, in the Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra in D major KV 299.

Julius Klengel’s mesmerising Hymnus opus 57 is played by a luxurious ensemble of 12 cellos from the orchestra. Three works by Franz Schmidt, Georg Muffat and Vicenzo Albrici round out the collection.


Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

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