Graun: Christmas Oratorio

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WORKS: Christmas Oratorio
PERFORMER: Ingrid Schmithüsen (soprano), Lena Susanne Norin (alto), Markus Schäfer (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass); Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
CATALOGUE NO: 999 707-2
Alas, too late for the Christmas season, but affording a Lenten palliative, come three 18th-century Christmas Oratorios. Two of them, by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel and Carl Heinrich Graun, belong to the late Baroque while the third, by Joseph Eybler, dates from the last decade of the century. Stölzel was court music director at Gotha for almost 30 years and this recording commemorates the 250th anniversary of his death in 1749. Bach thought well of him, and included his beautiful aria ‘Bist du bei mir’ in the Clavierbüchlein for his wife Anna Magdalena. Stölzel’s Oratorio (1736) consists of three cantatas for the first three days of Christmas. The music is skilfully worked and often engaging though, in the end, unmemorable. A mainly strong solo line-up and a variably secure instrumental ensemble are affectionately directed by Ludger Rémy.


Though dating from approximately the same time as Stölzel’s work, Graun’s captivating Oratorio embraces the up-to-date ‘galant’ idiom, with a profusion of engaging melodies, simpler accompaniments and an airier treatment of the chorale. Its expressive terms of reference call to mind Telemann’s later oratorios, many of which were written well after Graun’s innovative piece. The performance under the direction of Hermann Max is on a higher level than the Stölzel and should afford readers unqualified pleasure.


Eybler was a contemporary of Beethoven. He wrote this, his first oratorio, in 1794 for the Musicians Retirement Institute in Vienna. The stylistic terms of reference are varied and far-flung but, though often suggesting in turn Gluck, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Eybler nevertheless speaks with his own distinctive inflections. A new and pleasing encounter, performed with rough-edged vigour and eager bravura. Nicholas Anderson