Seventeenth Century Chrismas Eve
Most Baroque Christmas collections contain at least some old favourites – Corelli’s Christmas Concerto‚ the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ from Messiah‚ the Sinfonia from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and so on – but not this one. In this dip into the 17thcentury Christmas repertoires from Germanspeaking lands there is not a single piece that has received more than a handful of recordings‚ and many that must be enjoying their first. Indeed‚ for some of these composers this may well be their first outing on record at all.
Apart from the three short sonatas by the Austrians Biber‚ Schmelzer and Fux‚ all the pieces are for solo voice and instruments‚ a type of ensemble then much favoured in Germany and Austria. The richly expressive results it often yielded are not so evident here (try Easter for that)‚ but this is attractive music nevertheless. Perhaps not surprisingly‚ the composers from the southern end of the region – Rosenmüller‚ Aufschnaiter‚ Esterházy‚ Leuttner – tend towards the rural pipe and drone effects and slightly sentimental lullabies familiar from Italian Christmas music; while those from the Protestant north – Buxtehude‚ Tunder‚ Schildt – show a preference for building their music around appropriate chorale melodies.
Most striking to my ears were Esterházy’s exquisitely touching lullaby Cur fles Jesu; Böddecker’s curiously episodic Natus est Jesus‚ making effective use of the wellknown tune ‘Joseph‚ lieber Joseph mein’; and a boisterous dancesong by Reichwein‚ a mystery man about whom I have so far discovered nothing (the booklet offers no information other than texts). There is also an oddmanout in the work by the 18thcentury composer Reichard‚ clearly a work from a different age but pleasingly responsive to text.
The performances are enjoyable and stylish. The instrumental playing shows involvement and warmth‚ though the latter is undermined by a somewhat unlovely recorded sound‚ while Susanne Rydén’s singing is a treat‚ technically secure‚ beguiling of timbre and never failing to convey an apt sense of innocence and joy. Despite a few signs of hurried recording‚ this is a good buy‚ and not just for Christmas.