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-Oratorium, and 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