As already seems traditional, December 2011 was marked by a performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in Dresden's Frauenkirche. At this place with its special significance as a haven of reconciliation, the audience were delighted by the church's chamber choir and ensemble joined by brilliant soloists under the direction of Matthias Grünert.
These are not jet-setting world stars that have come to pay their respects to a city whose recent history has kept it in the spotlight; they are talented and highly motivated musicians from the Frauenkirche itself and the region surrounding it. So this was a Christmas concert with a special sense of identity, a special mission.
Two evenings were devoted to all six parts of the Christmas Oratorio, played with commitment and brisk tempo on modern instruments but informed by period performance practice: an undertaking that demands considerable stamina from performers and listeners alike. Once one has entered into this Bachian cosmos, however, it matters not how familiar one is with the Christmas Oratorio – no church pew is so uncomfortable that it can reverse the irresistible attraction of this timeless music. And so the high, domed ceiling of the Frauenkirche echoed to the whole Christmas story as it was told to its enraptured audience. God was made man: for this association of utter opposites, Bach found music ranging from exalted splendour to humblest simplicity. Subtle musical codes allow the composer to indicate things too great for mere intellect to comprehend, and one is left to wonder how many believers the Church owes to the inspiration of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Between this high aspiration and the continuing popularity of the Christmas Oratorio lies a great gulf that seemingly none other than Bach can bridge without difficulty, and so, enriched by a new appreciation of the familiar, the audience went out into the winter night from the Dresden Frauenkirche exalted and certainly not exhausted. – That celebration of the Nativity can be relived and relished on these CDs compiled from live recordings and accompanied by a lavishly appointed booklet.