I’ve been burnt out on Christmas music for some time — even classical Christmas music. But In Dulci Jubilo promised something fresh — seasonal music from Dieterich Buxtehude and his colleagues. And it was recorded by Paul Hillier and the Theater of Voices. I wasn’t disappointed.

In Dulci Jubilo is a time capsule of Christmas and Advent music from Northern Germany in the late 1600s. The Protestant Reformation had established its own musical voice. Dietrich Buxtehude, Heinrich Scheidemann, Franz Tundar, Johann Christoph Bach (J.S. Bach’s great uncle) laid the foundation composers of the High Baroque would build on.

Paul Hillier is a meticulous director, and his attention to detail shows in the performances and the program. The Theatre of Voices has an exceptionally seamless blend. And they’re all top-notch soloists as well. The program takes the listener through the liturgical season, from Advent through Epiphany with selections to match. And the works are nicely balanced between choral and instrumental.

Some selections are familiar, such as In Dulci Jubilo and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star). Others, such as Buxtehude’s Das neugeborne Kindelein and J.C. Bach’s Merk auf, meib Herz were new to me.

But familiar or not, there’s a consistency that runs through all these works. Luther was all about clarity, and these works deliver their message in a straightforward fashion. The pulse is always clear, and no matter how artful the counterpoint, the words are never obscured.

In Dulce Jubilo is a well-sung, well-organized program that effectively captures a moment in time. A moment that more than hints of the grandeur that was to come with Bach, Handel, and Telemann.

In dulci Jubilo
Music for the Christmas season by Buxtehude and Friends
Theater of Voices; Paul Hillier, director
Dacapo 6.220661 SACD