For Telemann, 1730-31 was the “year of oratorios.” Given the rich musical resources of Hamburg, he wrote a series of oratorios for the liturgical year. Michael Alexander Willens and the Kölner Akademie perform three of these recently rediscovered works, all centered around Christmas.

The Baroque oratorio was closely related to opera, and Telemann wrote accordingly. The soloists are giving arias, duets, and ensemble pieces that use the full range of vocal expression.

Schmecket und sehet (O taste and see) was written for the first day of Christmas. The text is an allegorical call to Bethlehem. Telemann’s use of winds gives the oratorio a pastoral feel, suggesting the call to the shepherds. Telemann names the choral passages the “Choir the Joyful Souls.” As performed by the Kölner Akademie, that joy is palpable.

For the third day of Christmas, Telemann wrote Im hellen Glanz der Glaubenssonnen (In the bright glow of the sun of faith). The text contemplates the enormity of God’s gift. Here Telemann names the ensemble the “Choir of the faithfully observing souls.” Their chorals are somber and introspective.

Herr Gott, dich loben wir (Lord God, we praise you), the oratorio for New Year’s Day, has a formal quality to it. The counterpoint is dense and complex, the solo passages somewhat restrained in their contours.

Und das Wort ward Fleisch (The Word Made Flesh) from the 1741 Musicalisches Lob Gottes rounds out the program. It quotes Martin Luther’s Christmas carol, Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ and In ducli jubilo. It’s a light, airy work with plenty of opportunities for the soloists to display their skills.

Whether you prefer the Christmas cantatas of Bach, or Handel’s “Messiah,” you’ll find lots to enjoy in this recording. Kölner Akademie and Michael Alexander Willens bring out the unique character of each oratorio. And the soloists — especially soprano Monka Mauch — sing with beauty and sensitivity.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Christmas Oratorios
Schmecket und sehet, TVWV 1:1251*; Im hellen Glanz der Glaubenssonnen, TVWV 1:926*; Herr Gott, dich loben wir, TVWV1:745*; Und das Wort ward Fleisch, TVWV1:1431
Monka Mauch, soprano; Nicole Pieper, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Klaus Mertens, Raimonds Spogis, Manfred Brul, Joel Urch, bass
Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, director
CPO 555 254-2
*World premiere recordings