Christmas Music at Thomaskirche a fine tradition

Machet die Tore weilt, Weihnachtmusik an der Thomaskirche (Christmas Music at Thomaskirche) is the second such collection of music I’ve reviewed this year. That is seasonal sacred music by the composers who preceded Johann Sebastian Bach at Thomaskirche, Leipzig.

I’m not sure if this is some kind of trend, but I’d be happy if it was. Yes, Bach was a genius, but he didn’t come out of nowhere. The music he wrote built on and expanded upon that of the previous generations.

Leipzig was in the habit of employing top-notch musicians, and this release demonstrates how deeply ingrained that habit was.

This release features composers who form an unbroken chain from Johann Schein to Bach. Tobias Michael was a student of Schein and succeed him in 1631. At his death, Sebastian Knüpfer was brought in in 1677. He in turn was replaced by Johanne Schelle a student of Schutz. Upon his death, Johann Kuhnau assumed the role, and upon his death in 1722, Bach was hired.

Although the works span almost a century, there’s a remarkable consistency throughout. These are Advent and Christmas cantatas and generally follow the same form. That is, big choruses to begin and end, with arias in the middle.

There’s also a consistency of quality. All these composers knew how to write for choirs, and all had a gift for melody.

The ensemble and chorus have a full, rich sound in this recording, enhanced by the warm acoustics of the Erlöserkirche Bad Hamburg.

The soloists also deliver first-rate performances. I especially enjoyed Simone Schwark’s singing. Her voice had a clear, delicate sound, I thought.

If you have Bach’s Christmas cantatas, add this release to your collection. It will add perspective to those masterworks, and provide many hours of enjoyable listening.

Machet die Tore weilt 
Weihnachtmusik an der Thomaskirche 
Michael, Knüpfer, Schelle, Horn, Kuhnau Antonia Bourvé, 
Simone Schwark, soprano; Kohanna Krell, alto; Florian Cramer, Hansjörg Mammel, tenor; Markus Flaig, bass 
Kamemrchor der Erlöserkirche Bad Hamburg; Susanne Rohn, director 
Christophorus CHR 77449

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