Past Concerts

Christmas Oratorio, Bach

Sunday 17 November 2013, 7pm
St Dunstan’s Church, Mayfield, East Sussex

Mayfield Festival Choir conducted by Jeremy Summerly with the Primavera Chamber Ensemble (leader Paul Manley) and soloists Miranda Johnson, Anna Boucher, Nicholas Scott and Martin Johnson.

The Christmas Oratorio is not an oratorio at all. It is a set of cantatas that were written to be performed as a sequence during Christmastide of 1734. As so often with Baroque composers, self-borrowing plays a major part in Bach’s compositional process – after all, if you’ve written a good tune, why not use it again in a different context. In the case of the Christmas Oratorio, Bach borrowed from three of his secular (i.e. non-church) cantatas, and also from a now lost cantata written in honour of a member of the Saxon royal family. What is remarkable is that none of the Christmas Oratorio was performed between its Leipzig première in 1734/5 and its revival in Berlin in 1857 – a century and a quarter is a long time for a genuine masterpiece to lie unperformed.

We performed the cantatas for Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day, New Year’s Day, and Epiphany, which celebrate the Birth of Jesus, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the Naming of Jesus, and the Adoration of the Magi respectively. Bach wrote his cantatas not in Latin, but it his own native language of German. Consequently we performed the Christmas Oratorio in our native language, English.


“Loyal followers of Mayfield Festival Choir once again filled St Dunstan’s Church on Sunday 17th November for a performance of the Christmas Oratorio by JS Bach.

The choir met all the challenges of this difficult work; a glowing tribute to Jeremy Summerly who has given them increased confidence and musical awareness resulting in a cleaner, fuller tone with greater dynamic range. The Primavera Chamber Ensemble with leader Paul Manley was, as usual, responsive and spirited and the trumpet and brass contributions were especially effective. Choir and orchestra were complemented by an able quartet of soloists who met the demands of their parts with poised and elegant singing. The tenor soloist delivered the storytelling with conviction, particularly so in his later arias. The final triumphant choral was a rousing climax to the evening.

The next performance by the choir will take place in May as part of the 2014 Mayfield Festival of Music and the Arts. On the evidence of tonight’s performance it will be an evening to look forward to. ”     

James Anderson

“Congratulations on Sunday’s performance. I think we were all pretty happy with what we produced on the night, but that only means so much. Most importantly, the orchestra was seriously impressed. They haven’t heard us for a year, so their positive reaction was particularly dear to me. Nick Scott (our supremely gifted student Tenor) had also not heard us since last year’s Handel/Mozart/Schubert concert, and his heartfelt (bordering on shocked) reaction in the rehearsal was plain for all to see. I was blown away by the sheer amount of sound you managed to summon up on the night. And the chorales were heavenly.”

Jeremy Summerly

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