Not really an oratorio in the Handelian sense, but a set of six cantatas to be performed on different days of the Lutheran Christmas season. As in other Bach major choral works, plagiarism is rife, not only from himself but from others (quite in order in those pre-copyright days). The magnificent opening chorale "Jauchzet frohlocket!", full of trumpets and drums, is from a secular cantata, the opening words of which were (oddly enough) "beat the drums and sound the trumpets!" The most hilarious example is the beautiful cradle song in Cantata 2, which is taken from a seduction aria in a secular cantata! And as an illustration of Bach's deeply-held faith, the famous Hassler Easter chorale melody, still sung at Easter today as "O sacred head" and which forms the centrepiece of the St. Matthew Passion, appears twice, the second time as a bright up-tempo final chorale with a glorious solo trumpet obbligato. At Jesus's birth, Bach was looking ahead to the events of Good Friday. \r\n\r\nNow, recordings. My favourites are John Eliot Gardiner. "Favourites?" I hear you say. Well, my favourite is the fabulous DVD set of Gardiner and his merry (wo)men in live performance in the Herderkirche in Weimar, a church Bach would have known. A fabulous performance, full of brightness and joy, with the video adding enormously to the pleasure of the experience. Gardiner's affection for the work is clearly on show. \r\n\r\nOf audio-only versions, Gardiner's Archiv set is the best to me. The lively tempi chosen by Gardner and the superb work of the Monteverdis set this version apart. Just listen to the opening chorus of Cantata 5 - breathtaking, lively and fully controlled. Could it be done better? I have my doubts \r\n\r\nI have a few other versions (Pickett, Herreweghe, Harnoncourt), and while they offer pleasure, and in some numbers better Gardiner, none in my opinion comes close to Gardiner overall. \r\n\r\nAn honourable mention to a non-authentic performance, an old Philips recording by Eugen Jochum. Beside the original instrument versions, it can sound rather ponderous, but, like Klemperer's versions of Bach's B Minor Mass and St. Matt., it has a certain grandeur, and I still dig out the vinyl (yes, THAT old) and play it now and again, and I still enjoy it. One of the glories of the Christmas Oratorio is the aria "Grosser Herr und starker KÃƒÂ¶nig" that comes at the end of Cantata 1. Nowhere is it done better than by Jochum, with Hermann Prey's rich baritone and Willi Bauer's wonderfully delicate trumpet obbligato playing patterns around him (the modern clarino trumpets are a lot easier to control than the old valveless monsters). This one aria justifies the price of the entire set (a cheap set these days, I think).