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.