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Arts | By Richard Osborne

Bach at Christmas

First it was designer bathrooms where it can take an age amid the artfully elegant chrome fittings to discover how to turn a tap on. Now it’s CD covers. I mention this because few could deduce from the cover of John Eliot Gardiner’s newest CD with the Monteverdi Choir that it contains the original version of one of Bach’s most life-enhancing works and the Christmas context that inspired it. It’s Bach’s setting of the Magnificat, Mary’s hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the birth of the Christ Child, with which Bach dazzled the 2,000 or more worshippers in St Nicholas’s Church, Leipzig, on Christmas Day 1723. This was his first Christmas in Leipzig, the town in which he would spend the remainder of his life as cantor, music director, composer, husband, father and, for a while, disaffected schoolmaster. As statement pieces go, it takes some beating. ‘Magnificat in E flat,’...

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