Carl Heinrich Graun, once Kapellmeister to Frederick the Great, is best remembered as the composer of numerous stage works for the royal Prussian opera house, and as the creator of the passion oratorio „Der Tod Jesu“, composed in 1755. […] In view of the dismal situation concerning the transmission of Graun’s early works, the discovery of a substantial Christmas oratorio, apparently composed before the Berlin period, and whose existence has hitherto evaded research, is of particular importance. […]
The libretto for the Christmas Oratorio demonstrates close parallels with Graun’s „Grosse Passion“ and with his „Kleine Passion“, both in terms of language and in terms of form. The characteristic features of the three works include a general departure from the gospel text in favour of freely written observations, dialogues, and meditations on events in the text. In the Christmas Oratorio the share of biblical prose is restricted to a few sentences from the second chapter of St. Luke’s gospel. […]
There are also close musical links between the Christmas Oratorio and the two passion settings. The particular character of Graun’s church style can be clearly seen in the well-balanced alternation between strictly contrapuntal and more melodically characterised choral movements, in the expressive and colourfully orchestrated arias, and in the harmonically adventurous recitatives. [… It] shows the composer at the threshold of the „empfindsamer Stil“. […]
Altogether, this edition of Carl Heinrich Graun’s long-neglected Christmas Oratorio provides a valuable and representative testimony to the development of a sensitive and reverent church style that increasingly employed composers as well as theorists from the 1730s.
(Peter Wollny, translation by Katherine Douglas)