Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s Weihnachtsoratorium is, as the title suggests, a constant dialogue with Bach’s famous work. As with Bach, there are choruses, recitatives, chorales, and even a kind of “evangelist” – the usual high tenor. The dialogue with Bach turns from admiration and love to intrusion and satire and back. At the end there is a peculiar Christmas-like sweetness that reflects what it is like listening to and understanding Bach in our time, and how we perceive 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 chorale melodies are subjected to a process of deterioration, they strangely retain their integrity. And although one is tempted to consider whether this is all just a parody of the despicable clichés of “modern music” – since there are many of those 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 flows effortlessly into minimalism, and although the chorales at times descend into fascist cries and howls, we remain captivated by what we would all perceive as “A Christmas Oratorio”. 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 Bach in the process.