Classical CD of the month

Christmas Oratorio

Those for whom Christmas inevitably means a frenetic period of shopping, catering and micro-scheduled TV-watching - all requiring the organisation of a military operation - should hear this recording.

Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt gives a lesson in how to relax and yet at the same time tackle questions of the greatest spiritual and intellectual rigour.

If that sounds incongruous, just listen. The flow of this Christmas Oratorio, although it gradually builds, remains natural and unforced, perhaps even easy. The orchestra and choir seem to create for themselves a spiritual haven, in which the soloists can then examine life's joy and its challenges.

It helps that Harnoncourt's singers are so intelligent and full of character, particularly the ladies.

There is much joy here, this being after all a celebratory piece. But there is angst, too, and uncertainty.

Christmas, Harnoncourt seems to be saying, is a time to give yourself the necessary space to turn away from the daily grind and give thanks, but also to look inward.

And that, one feels, is the true spirit of almost any great religious festival.

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Artists: Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Toby Spence, Roderick Williams, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Label: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi


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