Featured Performers Lawrence Wiliford tenor, Margaret Bragle mezzo soprano, Emily Cheung soprano, Kathleen Rudolph flute, Roger Cole oboe, Joan Blackman violin, the Phoenix Chamber Choir and the CBC Radio Orchestra.

Date 30 November 2007, 8pm Venue Orpheum Theatre Reviewer John Jane

The rarely performed Weihnachts Oratorium (Christmas Oratorio) is a fascinating and inspiring work. However, Johann Sebastian Bach originally intended his six Baroque cantatas retelling the Nativity to be performed not as a single concert, but on separate occasions over the traditions "twelve days of Christmas."

Bach composed the cantatas to observe the following events: first Cantata for Christmas Day, second Cantata for Boxing Day, third Cantata for the third day of Christmas, fourth Cantata for New Year's Day, fifth Cantata for the first Sunday after New Year and the sixth Cantata for the Feast of the Epiphany.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir teamed up with the Phoenix Chamber Choir to form a forty-one member unified vocal force with exhilarating effect. Maestro Jon Washburn sensibly adapted Bach’s lengthy score to a two-hour concert format by retaining the first three Cantatas close to their original duration, and blue-penciling the fourth, fifth, and sixth.

The oratorio was sung in the original German translation of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Washburn kept superb tempi through both the choral passages and the bounteous virtuoso solo parts.

The four vocal soloists offered varying levels of contribution and differing degrees of skill. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford as The Evangelist provided the most consistent phrasing and diction; his diligence to the narrative was peerless. Of course, Lawrence Wiliford has previously performed the vocal parts of Bach’s Weihnachts Oratorium with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under the direction of Trevor Pinnock, and his experience showed.

Mezzo soprano Margaret Bragle has without doubt a truly gorgeous voice, but her handling of the German text lacked conviction. Emily Cheung and Bill Vermeulen stepped out of the Choir’s ranks to provide supportive vocal parts. Cheung in particular impressed and perhaps surprised first-time attendees to a VCC concert with precise phrasing and clarity. She was joined by Roger Cole on oboe and choir-mate, Alicia Hansen, who moved off stage for a glorious Echo Aria in the fourth Cantata.

The CBC Radio Orchestra acquitted themselves well in the complex elements of the Sinfonia that heralds the second Cantata and provided eloquent accompaniment in the vocal passages.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir delivered a festive and welcome alternative to the inveterate Handel’s Messiah. Even in German, its message can be moving, going beyond religious dogma.

© 2007 John Jane