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How much you enjoy this performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio may depend on how strongly you feel about the size of Bach’s choir. Although he uses a period instrument ensemble and expert baroque soloists, Stephen Layton also employs a chorus of nearly 40 people, many more than Bach probably had available. Curiously, several other ‘historically informed’ recordings of the oratorio embrace this anomaly, although the use of small-scale choral forces in Bach’s music has often proved aesthetically compelling (Pickett’s Christmas Oratorio, McCreesh’s St Matthew Passion, Butt’s B minor Mass, not to mention the pioneering work of Rifkin and Parrott). That said, this is still an enthralling disc, albeit I was most impressed with the soloists, particularly James Gilchrist’s eloquent Evangelist and Matthew Brook’s resonant bass, and by some brilliant playing from the OAE – their exultant trumpets and timpani open and close the oratorio in a blaze of festive jubilation.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing