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SUMI JO: The Christmas Album
1. Trad: I wonder as I wander
2. Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): ‘Ich steh’ an deiner Krippen hier’ (from Christmas Oratorio BWV 248
3. Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Cantata pastorale per la nascita di Nostro Signore
4. Johann CRUGER (1598-1662): Frohlich soll mein Herze springen
5. Adolphe Charles ADAM (1803-1856): O Holy Night
6. Christoph BERNHARD (1628-1682): Furchtet euch nicht!
7. Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91): Andante Grazioso from Symphony No 19 in E flat, K132
8. Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863): Stille Nacht (2 versions)
9. Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
10. Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Violin Concerto in E major, ‘Il riposo’ RV270
11. Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): O Jesulein suss
12. Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART: Exsultate, jubilate, K165
Sumi Jo (soprano) – items 1,3,5,6,8 & 12
Hiro Kurosaki (violin) – items 8 (2nd setting) & 10
Barbara Ochs (contralto) – item 8 (1st setting)
Gottfried Bach (fortepiano, organ) – items 5 & 8 (2nd setting)
VokalEnsemble Koln, dir. Max Ciolek – items 2, 4, 6, 9, and 11
Cappella Coloniensis des WDR conducted by Michael Schneider – items 3,6,7,8 (1st setting), 10 & 12
Recorded in Studio Stofbergerstrasse, Cologne, 4 – 9 October, 2000
ERATO 8573-85819-2 [74.42]

Appearances can be deceptive. Anyone casually picking up this CD in a shop could be forgiven for thinking that this is "just another" artist-led collection of Christmas music, the contents of which are likely to be rather saccharine. This impression would be heightened by the cover artwork, which has a picture of Erato’s star soprano against a background of seasonal baubles.

However, the contents could not be more different. This disc is a pretty well planned collection of seasonal music, mainly from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As the interesting note points out, it is the European idea of the ‘pastoral’ Christmas which binds together much of the music.

The solo cantatas by Scarlatti and Bernhard were both new to me. Perhaps neither contains absolutely top-drawer music but both have great charm and they are winningly delivered by Sumi Jo. Bernhard, incidentally, is a forgotten figure nowadays but he was a pupil of Heinrich Schütz. Predictably, Sumi Jo gives a very fine performance of Mozart’s celebrated ‘Exsultate, Jubilate'. There’s no clear link that I can see between this piece and Christmas but it would be churlish to complain at the inclusion of such a good performance. I’m a little less convinced by Sumi Jo’s accounts of the shorter, simpler pieces such as ‘I wonder as I wander’ where, to my ears, she sounds a bit too artful.

You may wonder also how the inclusion of the slow movement of an early Mozart symphony can be justified. This is made clear in the notes: the piece includes a variant (in the second violin part) on the old carol ‘Resonet in Laudibus’.

All the works so far mentioned feature Cappella Coloniensis, the period instrument ensemble of the German radio station WDR. They play very well throughout, including when providing the accompaniment to the short Vivaldi violin concerto, which, I’m bound to say, sounds to me just like umpteen other pieces by this composer.

The other ensemble which performs on the disc is the VokalEnsemble Koln who give stylish, well sung accounts of a number of German Christmas chorales. These provide a pleasant and effective contrast to the remainder of the programme.

Very good performances, then, recorded in good sound. There are useful notes (you can always skip the separate adulatory profile of the star singer) and full texts and translations are provided. The programme is much more enterprising than many of the Christmas collections in the catalogue and this disc is well worth investigating.

John Quinn

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