At Fritz Lehmann’s untimely death on 20 March 1956, during a traditional Good Friday performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in Munich, his recording of the Christmas Oratorio was left incomplete. He had recorded the first four cantatas in the first week of August the previous year, and with many of the same performers who had brought such distinction to his previous recordings for Deutsche Grammophon.
No generation has a monopoly on truth, and Lehmann’s Bach was ‘authentic’ for the time: a slimmed-down Berlin Philharmonic incorporated modern copies of antique instruments such as the oboe da caccia. They accompanied the finely honed, professionally trained voices of the Berlin Motet Choir, which had been founded as recently as 1950 by Gunther Arndt. Deutsche Grammophon’s Archiv division quickly made good the incomplete project by assigning Arndt the task of recording the last two cantatas, which he did in June and September 1956.
The recording’s producer, Dr. Fred Hamel, paid this tribute to Lehmann: ‘We are left with his recordings, and even if they […] represent only a fragment of his artistic range, they ensure that his musical qualities will become more widely known. They are the testimonies of a conductor who did not follow prescribed paths but his own law. In accordance with that law, he was simultaneously a dynamic force and an admonitory conscience in German musical life. That is a measure of the gap opened up by his premature death. It will not be easily closed.’
Title: Bach: Christmas Oratorio
Release Date: 06 Oct 2017
Artist: Gunther Arndt Fritz Lehmann
Catalogue No: 4827637