Overshadowed by his contemporary Handel's great oratorio "Messiah" for a good long time, Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio, which actually came a few years before Handel unveiled his masterpiece, has, in recent decades, managed to attain its place among the great works for the Christmas season. The fact that "Messiah" has overshadowed it is not really due to its extreme length (both works are extremely long, clocking in at an average of two and a half hours), but more due to the fact that it is sung completely in German, as opposed to the English of "Messiah", and is scored for fairly large forces, including a sizeable royal trumpet component and timpani, primarily for parts 1, 3, & 6. The story itself, however, is of the most timeless event in history, the birth of Christ.
Part of the work's resurrection as one of the staples of Christmas classical music can be owed to the many period instrument orchestras that have performed and recorded it. But what may be among the best, if not out-and-out Number One, of these belongs to the recording made for Philips in 1987 by vocal soloists Robert Holl, Marjana Lipovsek, Andrea Ihle, Eberhard Buchner, Helen Donath, and (as the Evangelist), tenor Peter Schreier, who also does double duty conducting the Leipzig Radio Choir and the Dresden State Orchestra. These forces are also aided by legendary trumpeter Ludwig Goettler and his trumpet ensemble, who are very noticeable at the right moments. Schreier, who already showed himself an able conductor in other choral works of Bach, as well as Mozart's last two Mass settings and the ever-imposing D Minor Requiem, is at his best in what is at the very least a challenging task, being both conductor and vocal soloist.
Of all modern recordings of Bach's biggest contribution to the Christmas musical literature, this one is the one to have.