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Bach's magnificent "i"Christmas Oratorio tends to overshadow his other Christmas music, much of which, as Philippe Herreweghe demonstrates here, is superb. "i"Unser Mund sei voll Lachens is the biggest of the three--it's known for its opening chorus, which overlays vocal parts onto the first movement of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 4, but its arias display a wide variety of moods--and instruments, from flutes to oboe to trumpet. Moving from the sumptuous to the spare, Selig ist der Mann uses only two soloists: it's one of those allegorical dialogues in which a soprano represents the Soul of the Believer and a bass represents Jesus. It's surprisingly somber for the season, but beautiful nonetheless. Das neugeborne Kindelein is a rather cheerful work, its minor key notwithstanding. Typically for a Bach cantata, the opening chorus has the lower three voices singing dense counterpoint while the sopranos sing the titular chorale melody; less characteristically, Bach uses a similar technique in a subsequent trio, with the alto singing the chorale while soprano and tenor sing a spirited duet with a separate text. Soprano Vasiljka Jezovsek sounds a bit awkward at times--and so, oddly, does the tenor, baroque specialist Mark Padmore. On the other hand, Sarah Connolly is the rare female alto who sounds mature but not matronly, and Peter Kooy shows again why he's the best Bach bass soloist around. Herreweghe's choir and orchestra exhibit their usual glowing tone and flawless execution, but on this occasion their approach seems too subdued for the material, especially when the trumpets and drums are involved. The performances may not be absolutely ideal, but they're valuable, especially since these particular cantatas aren't widely recorded. --Matthew Westphal