The Christmas Oratorio is actually not an ‘oratorio’ in the mold of, for instance, Bach’s Ascension Oratorio or Handel’s Messiah. It is a series of 6 separate cantatas, collectively relating the story from Christmas through to Twelfth Night. Bach wrote the work in Leipzig in 1734 and 1735 for Christmas Day (I), Boxing day (II), the third day of Christmas (III), New Year (IV), the Sunday after New Year (V) and Twelfth Night (VI).
As with the Passions, the texts here are drawn from three sources: (1) the evangelical texts (primarily Luke and Matthew) intoned by the Evangelist (tenor) as recitatives, (2) chorales from the Lutheran tradition and (3) free texts for arias and some choral passages, written by the poet Picander. Rather than dealing with the content and structure of the work itself (which an interested reader can readily find out about in the literature or even on the internet), I would prefer to consider certain aspects of this performance that all contribute towards the fact that, as a whole, it is perhaps as close as presently possible to what we imagine Bach might have had in mind as he composed the work in Leipzig.
First of all, we have the ‘one to a part’ aspect: historical research among the various sources clearly shows that Bach did not ask for a choir to perform his cantatas, but simply a vocal quartet (the classical combination of soprano, alto, tenor and bass). Exceptionally, Bach doubled up this quartet on occasion so that he could write for double chorus (eight parts) (for example in the St Matthew Passion and several motets), or – as in the St John Passion – to strengthen the quartet of voices here and there with a further quartet.
Total time: 02:19:19
|Original Recording Format|
Bert van der Wolf
Bert van der Wolf, Brendon Heinst
Predikherenkerk, Leuven, Belgium
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||June 6, 2015|
‘Perhaps as close as presently possible’
The performance presented here by Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande is perhaps as close as presently possible to what we imagine Bach might have had in mind as he composed the work. Historical research among the various sources clearly shows that Bach did not ask for a choir to perform his cantatas, but simply a vocal quartet.
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