Reviews: December 2014 Christmas Oratorio

Miranda Heggie, The Herald

Four stars

In what is perhaps one of the most compelling musical narratives of the Christmas Story, Ludus Baroque, in their performance of J S Bach's Christmas Oratorio, lent truly celestial qualities to this sublime dialogue between Earth and Heaven.

The chorus, though not large in number, produced a strong and potent sound, evidently comprising a scrupulously selected group of vocalists. Splintering into smaller ensembles at points throughout the piece, the careful consideration of singers was further evident as voices were not only appropriately juxtaposed with each other, but splendidly suited to the particular nuances of the music.

The orchestra played with a spritely buoyancy, full of festive cheer, although sadly tuning and balance issues let them down at times, most notably in the introduction to the second cantata when strings and woodwind were particularly at odds.

The quartet of soloists were each equally thrilling as they illustrated the composer's deep theological insight through their portrayal of the various Biblical figures.

Tenor Joshua Elliot gave a particularly compelling performance of St Luke the Evangelist, while soprano Fflur Wyn's clear but rich soprano voice brought an engaging tenderness to the role of St Anna the prophetess. Her duets with baritone Will Berger were beautifully blended, with their melismatic passages gracefully intermingling. Alto Catherine Backhouse sang the role of the Archangel Gabriel with assured precision and brought a dark sense of foreboding to St Mary's recitative in the fifth cantata as she learns of King Herod's wrath.

Baroque violinist Oliver Webber led the orchestra with style and aplomb, and his solo passage in the trio aria towards the end of the penultimate cantata was exquisite, his elaborate ornamentation curling round the three voices like a living vine.