In a far away place and time – 18th century Leipzig, to be precise – a cycle of six cantatas was created by Johann Sebastian Bach, to celebrate the birth of Christ. Known as the Christmas Oratorio, this masterpiece remains one of the most majestic and often performed works of the Baroque repertoire in 2013.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, directed from the violin by Richard Tognetti, is joined by the Choir of London to perform J S Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Sydney in December.
First performed in 1734, each of the work’s six cantatas celebrates an episode of the Nativity, from Christ’s birth to the arrival of the Magi. The cantatas were performed over six days, commemorating the birth of Jesus (December 25), the angels’ announcement to the shepherds (December 26), the shepherds’ adoration of the baby (December 27), the circumcision and naming of Jesus (New Year’s Day), the coming of the Magi from the East (the Sunday after New Year’s Day) and the Magi’s worship with their gifts (January 6).
Like Bach’s St Matthew and St John Passion, the Christmas Oratorio features an Evangelist, sung by a tenor soloist who acts as the narrator, singing verses from the gospels of St Luke and St Matthew. Soloists add to the narrative with the choir reflects on the spiritual significance of events through the powerful chorales and lilting choruses, employing the full forces of choir and orchestra, propose a communal response.
The Choir of London performed under Richard Tognetti’s direction at Festival Maribor in Slovenia in 2010. Comprising singers from Britain’s leading choral baroque specialists, professional chamber choirs and opera companies, the soloists are drawn from the choir.
The Choir of London formed in 2003 as a small group of professional singers from Britain who volunteered to help a Palestinian choir perform in the Palestine Bach Festival. the choir has maintained a foothold in the Middle East, and in 2006, 15 members of the Choir and its Orchestra returned to the Palestinian territories for concerts in Ramallah and Jerusalem, as well as a project with the Sawa Choir for Palestinian children and its adult counterpart, the al-Ba’ath Choir.
Since then the Choir of London has returned regularly and helped stage the Palestinian Mozart Festival, in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus, the Palestine Opera Festival and the Palestine Choral Festival, with choirs from the UK and Europe joining for concerts in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Nablus, with associated events in Jenin, Hebron, Jericho and Nazareth and in several West Bank villages.
The Choir performs regularly with Israeli choirs and has done a lot of work in the UK with Jewish sacred music. In 2006 it released a recording of Sir John Tavener’s Lament for Jerusalem, which combines elements of Christian, Judaic and Islamic traditions.
The Singers: Nicholas Mulroy, tenor. the Evangelist,
Sopranos: Dima Bawab, Charmian Bedford, Sophie Bevan, Anna Dennis, Julia Doyle, Lucy Page, Elaine Tait,
Altos: Fiona Campbell, Annie Gill, Catherine Hopper, Kate Symonds-Joy,
Tenors: Jeremy Budd, Thomas Hobbs, Richard Rowntree,
Basses: Alex Ashworth, Samuel Evans, William Humphreys, Richard Latham