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Highlighting the almost infinite possibilities for variation within the ‘historically informed’ spectrum, these two fine interpretations of Bach’s evergreen Christmas narrative are rich with understanding and vivid story-telling. The 37 amateurs of the remarkably flexible Bachchor Mainz follow Ralf Otto’s detailed phrasing, matching Bachorchester Mainz’s disciplined virtuosity. Otto makes it dance with carefully judged tempi and unwavering momentum, even when a heavy downbeat dominates. Sweet-toned, expressive evangelist Georg Poplutz is totally immersed and responsive to textual nuance.

In brighter acoustics, the 11 professional voices of Musica Fiorita are more integrated with their tiny band. Every burnished line contributes to exquisite chamber music-making, with more ornamentation than the Germans, more invention, more drama, just as much impact, and a spring in the step. Excellent evangelist Hans Jörg Mammel impresses, as do the others soloists on both recordings, the principal difference being a male alto for the Swiss and a contralto in Mainz.

So, the Germans are tender, reflective, lofty and the Swiss more excitable, exalted, involving. Both interpretations honour contemporary views of performance practice (Musica Fiorita is closer to Bach’s forces in size) but it is the edgy, sparkling, transcendent joy evoked by Daniela Dolci from her Italian-Swiss forces that is more stirring, probably because they were recorded as part of a ground-breaking liturgical reconstruction with genuine devotional involvement.

REBECCA TAVENER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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