Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s Weihnachtsoratorium is, as the title suggests, a constant dialogue with Bach’s famous work. As with Bach, there are choirs, recitals, chorals, and even a kind of “evangelist” – a tenor-leading role. The dialogue with Bach turns from admiration to intrusion and satire. Yet at the end there is a peculiar Christmas-like sweetness that reflects what it is like to listen to Bach in our time, and how we can listen to 300-year-old music with contemporary ears.
This is an elegant and loving dialogue that offers a cheeky yet deeply respectful commentary. Although the old choral melodies are subjected to a process of pickling, they retain their integrity. And although in between one is tempted to consider whether this is all just a parody of the despicable clichés of “modern music” – since there are many of them in the work – these are all balanced with an excellent mastery of the substance of the piece and a striking lyrical talent that flows through the entire work. The rhythmic energy of the Baroque glides effortlessly into minimalism, and although the chorals at times descend into fascist cries and howls, we remain captivated by what we would all perceive as “a Christmas oratorium”. A delicate balance, precisely struck.
It is quite brilliantly done and the work’s many facets go to every corner of the globe without losing any of Bach in the process.