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Bach's Christmas Oratorio

An exploration of the six cantatas, premiered at Leipzig’s St. Thomas and St. Nicholas Churches in 1734, that mark the period from Christmas to Epiphany.

 
Program 1

The six Bach cantatas we'll be looking at were written to correspond with the days of the Lutheran church year, and are collectively referred to as the "Christmas Oratorio". We start at the start, with Cantata No. 1--For the First Day of Christmas. We've got time to hear the whole cantata; none of the six cantatas lasts more than half an hour.  This means that we have time at the end of each program to play some extra Bach tunes, such as this solo violin piece, Sonata No. 3 in C Major, part of a series of pieces written whilst Bach was working for a very austere church.

J.S. Bach: Cantata No. 1 from the Christmas Oratorio- For the 1st day of Christmas
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists/Gardiner
Archiv 423232
24:33
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J.S. Bach: Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005
Hilary Hahn, v.
Sony 62793
25:09
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Program 2

In this segment we begin with Cantata No. 2--for the 2nd Day of Christmas from Bach's Christmas Oratorio, which draws heavily from the Gospel of Luke and includes the oft-told story of the shepherds in the fields receiving an angelic surprise. The bonus Bach piece in this segment is Suite No. 3 in C Major, written for cello during a time that the cello was starting to replace the viol family of instruments.

J.S. Bach: Cantata No. 2 from the Christmas Oratorio (for the 2nd day of Christmas)
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists/Gardiner
Archiv 423232
26:51
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J.S. Bach: Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005
Pierre Fournier, vc.
DG 449711
22:54
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Program 3

We start with the third part of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Cantata No. 3 for the 3rd Day of Christmas. This music was first heard in the German city of Leipzig in 1734, just shy of 300 years ago. Afterwards, we have time for two extra Bach pieces, so we hear Orchestral Suite No. 2 and "Erfreute Zeit", from Cantata No. 83, not to be confused with the cantatas that make up the Christmas Oratorio.

J.S. Bach: Cantata No. 3 from the Christmas Oratorio (for the 3rd day of Christmas)
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Koopman; Larrson, s.; Von Magnus, a.; Pre-gardien, t.; Mertens, b.
Erato 14635
22:13, 3:39
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J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2, BWV 1067
Berlin Baroque Soloists/Kussmaul; Pahud, fl.
EMI 57111
19:27
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J.S. Bach: “Erfreute Zeit” from Cantata No. 83
Venice Baroque Orch./Marcon; Kirchschlager, s.
Sony 89924
6:47
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Program 4

We begin with Cantata No. 4--for the 4th Day of Christmas from the Christmas Oratorio. This is the cantata intended for the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, and it sounds interestingly similar to some of the Brandenburg concertos, but it's not nearly as festive. Next is another pair of extra Bach pieces: Sonata No. 1 for Viola da Gamba & Keyboard, which has a very interesting story attached to its recording, and Passacaglia and Fugue in D minor, arranged by Stokowski for orchestra.

J.S. Bach: Cantata No. 4 from the Christmas Oratorio (for the 4th day of Christmas)
Rundfunkchor Leipzig & Staatskapelle Dresden/Schreier
Phil 420204
22:44
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J.S. Bach: Sonata No. 1 for Viola da Gamba & Keyboard, BWV 1027
Rose, vc. Gould, p.
Sony 52615
13:04
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J.S. Bach/arr. Stokowski: Passacaglia and fugue in d minor, BWV 565
Stokowski Symphony Orchestra
EMI 66385
13:39
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Program 5

Well, we've only one segment left but two Cantatas from Bach's Christmas Oratorio remain to be covered. Thankfully, we can fit both Cantata No. 5 and Cantata No. 6 into this segment all at once, and STILL have time to close out with the Concerto for Two Violins, second movement. It's all a wonderful way to spend the holidays, especially since it's something different from the Nutcracker or Messiah, which are holiday standards for a reason, but unfortunately seem to eclipse this wonderful piece of work.

J.S. Bach: Cantatas 5 & 6 from the Christmas Oratorio (For the 5th and 6th days of Christmas)
English Baroque Soloists & the Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner
Archiv 423232
21:18, 22:54
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J.S. Bach: Concerto for 2 Violins, BWV 1043, II
Academy of Ancient Music/Manze; Manze, Podger, vlns.
HM 907155
6:30
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