The last part of the Christmas Oratorio was written for the Epiphany. While the narration is concerned with the arrival of the wise men, much of the music exhibits a darker cast heading toward Lent. The opening chorus has a complexion that is both passionate and vertiginous, going in one direction then veering off unexpectedly in another, as befits the text, which is concerned with the treachery of Herod. After a bit of narration, the soprano sings an accompanied recitative and aria, rather abstract in its condemnation of Herod and its pronouncement of God's power. The aria is a wonderful piece, full of the trickiest phrasing and unexpected ideas, very much in the manner of the opening chorus. After more narration and a chorale setting, Bach abandons the three kings, and in the tenor recitative and aria again concentrates on the treachery of Herod. The little four-voice recitative is thirty seconds of magic and leads into the astonishing final chorus, a triumphant trumpet-and-drum affair in which is imbedded the Passion Chorale. The Christmas Oratorio begins and ends, significantly, with the Passion Chorale, much in the manner of many nativity paintings of the period which show in the background a little sapling growing which is meant to be the tree of which the cross will be made.

©Craig Smith

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