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Heinrich Schütz’s 1660 musical setting of the Christmas narrative as told in St Luke’s gospel is one of his most charming works – full of descriptive details, vivid choruses and wonderful instrumentation, it’s easy to see how J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, while much grander as befits its later composition, was part of a strong tradition of such works in Lutheran German-speaking lands.

This disc is a re-release on the German Christophorus label of a 2003 original recording on the French K617 label, and appropriately the line-up of performers has a similarly cosmopolitan feel to it, with tenor Hans-Jörg Mammel joining soprano Claire Lefilliâtre (France), the Chœur de Chambre Namur (Belgium), and instrumental ensemble La Fenice under director and cornettist Jean Tubéry (France again).

Mammel makes for an outstanding Evangelist in the Weihnachtshistorie, telling the story vividly and ornamenting discreetly and tastefully; Lefilliâtre’s angelic interjections are lovely, her occasionally Gallic-tinged German notwithstanding, but the two strike up more meaningful partnerships in two additional pieces, Schein’s ‘Mach dich auf, werde Licht, Zion’ and Weckmann’s moving retelling of the Annunciation, ‘Gegrüßet seist Du, Holdselige’.

A final pair of seasonal Schütz works, his Latin Magnificat SWV 468 and ‘Hodie Christus natus est’ round offa very good disc indeed, although my top recommendation for the Weihnachtshistorie remains the liturgical reconstruction by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort & Players on Archiv Produktion.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing