OAE: Christmas Oratorio

Bach: Christmas Oratorio 1-3, Singet dem Herrn
Choir & Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Masaaki Suzuki
Cadogan Hall. 9 December 2016

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was originally performed as six separate cantatas on the major feast days of the Christmas Day, starting on 25 December. Unlike present day marketing operations and shops, Christmas in Lutheran Leipzig started on Christmas Day, not sometime in late-October. The first three cantatas were performed on the successive days, 25, 26, and 27 December 1734, with performances in both the Thomaskirche and Nicolaikirche. The last three cantatas were performed on 1, 2, and 6 January 1735, again with performances in both churches (with the exception of Part 3 and 5, which were only performed at the Nicolaikirche).

Notwithstanding the separate nature of the six cantatas, Bach clearly saw them as a unified whole, grouping them together under the single title of Weihnachts-Oratoriumand giving the whole set a logical key structure and theme development. As in many of his major works, Bach borrowed from his previous compositions (including three entirely secular cantatas), making for fascinating thoughts about the creation of a religious masterpiece balanced against the practical considerations of coming up with so many cantatas in such a short space of time and Bach’s allocating of religious texts to music composed for secular purposes.  It is a shock to realise that, despite the importance that this work apparently meant to Bach, the Christmas Oratorio was not performed again until 1857.

Shorn of the setting of a Lutheran service in wintry Leipzig, present day performances are inevitably compromises. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment came up with the sensible plan of splitting the piece over two successive evenings, Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 1

‘Women in Baroque Music’
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square, 15 May 2015

This long weekend of Baroque music was both a 1st  and a 31st  event. The first event of the new London Festival of Baroque Music, and the 31st of a continuing festival that had hitherto been known as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music. The Lufthansa Festival was an extraordinary example of collaboration between a sponsor (that in latter years also included Rolls Royce) and a music festival. Shorn of the funding of a major international sponsor, the LFBM_cropfirst London Festival of Baroque Music inevitably revealed its reduced financial resources, covering an 5-day extended weekend rather than earlier 8 or more days, and with a reduction in the number of groups from outside the UK. But a wealth of individual sponsors and some crowd-funding through social media has come up with the wherewithal to make for a rich and fulfilling series of concerts. And a capacity audience for the opening concert in St John’s, Smith Square showed the strength of public support. Continue reading