Finding tasteful Christmas music is not always an easy task.
Obviously, not everything is as bad as this:
But nevertheless, there is still a lot of tasteless stuff around. I’ve tried to point to some of my sources for tasteful Christmas music, the timeless Christmas Oratorio, the Nutcracker, and my favorite Christmas Jazz albums previously, but luckily good old Johann Sebastian has also written more than the Christmas Oratorio.
Bach’s Christmas Cantatas
The Christmas Oratorio itself is basically a collection of cantatas, and as part of his large collection of cantatas (that I yet need to write about in more detail), he’s also written several cantatas for specific seasons.
Typically, there are three cantatas closely associated with Christmas.
BWV 63, Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (Christians, engrave this day), was written in 1713 for the first day of Christmas, referring to the announcement of Christ. In character, it is very festive, but not necessarily very “christmassy”.
BWV 110, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (May our mouth be full of laughter), is my favorite of the three. This is partially due to the fact that its opening is based on Bach’s Orchestral Suite BWV 1069, which I really love. And here, the addition of the choir really gives it a fully new structure and beauty. Again, this cantata was written for the first day of Christmas, in 1725, while Bach was working in Leipzig.
BWV 151, Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Sweet comfort, my Jesus comes), was also written in 1725, for St. John’s day, the third day of Christmas, is the most intimate of the three cantatas, but doesn’t lack any beauty nevertheless. Just check out the beautiful flute solo in the first movement.
There is obviously no shortage of recordings of Bach cantatas, there is a sizable number of complete recordings out there. My personal favorites usually are Koopman and Gardiner, but Suzuki’s and Rilling also are very nice alternatives.
In Tempore Nativitatis – Christmas Cantatas – Philippe Pierrot – Ricercar Consort (Mirare 2013)
The Ricercar Consort is a Belgian ensemble lead by Philippe Pierlot. The musicians play with a lot of love for the music, and generate a very transparent and spacious sound.
The voices are also very beautiful. My favorite is Maria Keohane in Süsser Trost, but also really like Julien Prégardien, son of Christoph, here as well
If you want to go for a complete collection of cantatas, you may well go directly to Koopman and Gardiner, but if you are looking for a modern, beautifully recorded version of the Christmas cantatas specifically, you really cannot go wrong with this album.
My rating: 4 stars