CD review: Dunedin’s Christmas Oratorio

First published in the Guardian on 20 October, 2016

Bach: Christmas Oratorio
Dunedin Consort / Butt (Linn)

Way-too-early seasonal content (sorry) but this latest release from the Dunedin Consort is too good to wait. It’s surely one of the finest accounts now available of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. The approach of scholar/conductor John Butt is never authenticity-or-die, but full of historical investigation without purporting to recreate what Bach might have actually done. (Which would be tough, anyway, given the original 1734 vocal soloists probably doubled on an instrument or two.) The singers here are Dunedin regulars including Joanne Lunn, Clare Wilkinson, Nicholas Mulroy, all excellent, with Mary Bevan as a standout newcomer. The choral sound is pert, sinewy, natural; the instrumental playing is punchy, broad, charismatic. Butt’s navigation of the sprawling six cantatas is tremendously enjoyable — it’s not just how he handles tempo and gait to make us feel the character of individual movements, but how he turns corners and paces the big picture.