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The beauty of the experience was not only due to Bach, but the 40-year-old ensemble’s fine work as founding conductor Philippe Herreweghe deployed more than two hours of music with a touch both light and direct.
Herreweghe, one of the world’s most respected proponents of historically informed performances, has made Bach one of this cornerstones — and it showed in every detail, from pacing to the choice of soloists.
Four excellent soloists — soprano Dorothée Melds, counter-tenor Damien Guillon, tenor Thomas Hobbs and bass Peter Kooij — were embedded in the 16-member choir, all singing with an easy expressiveness that belied the score’s many technical hurdles.
The 23-member period-instrument orchestra was a model of transparent, balanced, rhythmically lively sound. It was fascinating to see how Herreweghe encouraged the continuo players — the core members of a Baroque orchestra who accompany solo voices — to emphasize a rhythmic bass line here and there to underscore a dramatic point.
Best of all was the deeply personal way in which Bach tells the story. Where Handel’s Messiah is all third-person narrative, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio contains chorales that connect the story with you and me.
When combined with such great music-making, this makes for a potent message in a messy world.