La Chapelle de Québec & Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall. Bernard Labadie conducts Bach’s Christmas Oratorio 

Bach
Christmas Oratorio, BWV248

Liv Redpath (soprano), Avery Amereau (contralto), Andrew Haji (tenor) & Joshua Hopkins (baritone)

La Chapelle de Québec

Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Bernard Labadie


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 7 December, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Bernard Labadie ushered in the holiday season with a joyful, exhilarating performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. One of the most expansive compositions in the composer’s canon, an assemblage of six cantatas, each originally designed to be performed on a different day from Christmas Day through the feast of the Epiphany (January 6). With a running time of nearly three hours, the uncut work is usually split over two concerts. Presented contiguous and complete, as here, not only reveals the genius of Bach, but it also enriches the dramatic power of his music.

Much of the text is taken from the German translation of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The music to most of the work’s arias and choruses was adapted (or “parodied”) from the composer’s earlier cantatas. Among the four soloists, Liv Redpath (a late-hour replacement for Lauren Snouffer) was a standout. Her radiant and resonant soprano brought shimmering splendor to every phrase she sang. Her melodic exchanges with Melanie Feld’s oboe in the “Echo” aria, “Flößt, mein Heiland, flößt dein Namen”, in Part IV were one of the highlights of the evening, along with “Nur ein Wink von seinen Händchen”, where she displayed both her sparkling high notes and the gorgeous warm sounds in her lower range.

Avery Amereau’s expressive contralto was a source of repeated joy, especially in “Bereite diech, Zion, mit zärtlichen Trieben”, to which she brought an impressive sense of immediacy. Andrew Haji, positioned behind the continuo, rendered the Evangelist’s narrative portions delivered with clear, natural diction but was at his best in the arias sung from center stage, nowhere more so than in “Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet”, where his agile voice engaged in a flawless dialogue with Elizabeth Mann’s gentle flute obbligato. Joshua Hopkins’s rich baritone contributed welcome weight, most significantly in “Großer Herr, o starker König”, rendered with clarity, confidence and dramatic flair.

Bach’s brilliant choruses were intoned with feeling and admirable diction by the 30-strong La Chapelle de Québec. Most memorable were the opening “Jauchzet, frohlocket”, flavored with exhilaration and grandeur and the fleet “Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem”, dispatched with passion and precision.

Seated throughout, Labadie took a measured approach, maintaining relaxed tempos which allowed vital clarity. The strings, concertmaster Krista Bennion Feeney, offered vibrant playing, and the characterful woodwinds, notably the oboes, were irresistible. A brilliant consort of continuo players lent Baroque spirit to this jubilant, emotionally rich performance.

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