JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is a Himalayan peak that the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs have left unclimbed for almost 20 years. Even Artistic Director Brett Weymark, who has always loved this music and has it on his annual Christmas Day playlist, finds that hard to believe.

“From the first timpani notes and the waking up of the oboes and flutes, to the cascading scales of the strings, the unfurling excitement of this music says something remarkable has taken place,” he says.

Bach Christmas Oratorio, Sydney Opera House, December 2023. Photo © Keith Saunders

For this one-off concert featuring his crack Chamber Singers and the 41-strong Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra, led by Fiona Ziegler, Weymark chose the first three of the six cantatas that Bach composed to be performed separately throughout Christmas week. These were intermixed with two sacred songs – Josef Rheinberger’s Abendlied (Evening Hymn) and Jan Sandstrom’s stunning arrangement of Michael Praetorius’s Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, how a rose e’er blooming) – before the two-hour concert came to a triumphant and majestic end with Bach’s notoriously challenging Gloria in excelsis Deo – Cantata for Christmas BWV 191.

Also on hand were...