O Jesulein

A German Baroque Christmas oratorio
Ricercar RIC444
Rather than an oratorio in the strict sense, this gorgeous disc offers up a selection of beautiful settings of texts that tell the Christmas story by some of the next composers of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Beginning with the Coronation of the Virgin, we have the Annunciation, music for the angels, the shepherds and the adoration, the angels appear to Joseph, then the Magi arrive, followed by the Presentation in the Temple, then “fast forward” to Jesus preaching there, and finally some general rejoicing. Much of the repertoire will be unfamiliar to most readers – though as popular in their day as their now better-known contemporaries, Michael Praetorius, Buxtehude and Schütz, the likes of Schelle, Hammerschmidt and Briegel are shockingly neglected nowadays, let alone Christoph Bernhard, Christian Flor and David Pohle. Six singers (SScTTB) and 10 instrumentalists (on strings, recorders, bassoons and crumhorns – as well as schalmey, bombard and rackett!) mix and match as the programme proceeds, and there is not a weak link among them. The voices combine beautifully – try the Gesualdo-like passage in Andreas Hammerschmidt’s “Ach mein herzliches Jesulein” for proof – then relax into the warmth of the string consort at the opening of Tunder’s “Ein kleines Kindelein”. Then get set for the crumhorns in Praetorius’ “Puer natus in Bethlehem”, which weren’t quite as rollicking as I’d expected, but the reedy sound was perfect. Some works are performed purely instrumentally. The informative booklet note is given in English, French and German. For the sung texts and their translations, you’ll have to go to the record company’s website to download a PDF (no great hardship!) If you need a musical background when wrapping Christmas presents or while stirring the Christmas cake for the 20th time, let me recommend the many forgotten gems on this beautiful CD.
Apologies to the musicians and the recording company for the delay in reviewing this wonderful recording; I have just found it in a box that was put in my attic (and “lost”!) when I moved house.
Brian Clark

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