Emmanuel Music offers rare ‘Christmas Oratorio’
Unlike Handel’s “Messiah,” Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” has never been a Boston holiday tradition. Of course, it didn’t start out as a single performance piece in its home town of Leipzig. Bach composed (or recomposed — a lot of recycling was involved) the oratorio in 1734, and the six cantatas that make it up were first presented individually in the churches of St. Thomas and St. Nicholas between Christmas Day and Epiphany of 1734-35. The whole runs some 2½ hours, significantly longer than “Messiah,” and it’s a test of the musicians’ expressiveness. The welcome performance offered by Emmanuel Music Saturday at Emmanuel Church, under its artistic director, Ryan Turner, did not fail that test, but it didn’t pass with flying colors.