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Christmas in Austria - a cappella
Stille Nacht* [03:04]
Dopolnjen je obljube čas** [01:36]
Maria durch ein Dornwald ging* [02:24]
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her* [03:43]
Es ist ein' Ros entsprungen* [02:30]
Zdaj razsvetljena je noč** [02:09]
Es blühn drei Rosen auf einem Zweig* [03:17]
Verkündigungslied* [02:26]
Gegrüsst seist du, Maria** [02:05]
See und Blick sind zugefroren* [01:28]
Wårtn tua ma* [01:37]
Übar dö Stapflan* [02:20]
Tiho lučka gori** [02:16]
Der Langenwanger* [02:36]
Geh, Hansl, påck dei Binggei* [02:09]
Ihr Hirten auf und losts nar åll* [02:11]
Viertausend Jahr verflossen sind** [02:34]
Gute Nacht, o schönstes Jesulein* [03:07]
Kommt her geschwind** [02:02]
Geistliches Wiegenlied* [02:31]
Ich komm her zu deiner Krippen** [03:21]
Heilige Nacht* [02:17]
Prišla je lepa sveta noč** [02:17]
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern* [02:24]
Stille Nacht - Sveta noč*/** [03:07]
männerquartett schnittpunktvokal (*) (Peter Paumgarten, alto; Christian Paumgarten, Michael Paumgarten, tenor; Josef Wagner, bass-baritone); Kvartet VITA (**); (Nina Šalamon, soprano; Darja Čremožnik, mezzo; Stanka Čremožnik, Breda Bider, contralto)
Recorded in August 2004 at the Hubertuskirche, Sekirn, Austria. DDD
GRAMOLA 98767 [63:43]

No Christian feast has so deeply penetrated into European popular culture as Christmas. The large number of Christmas carols, both ancient and modern, are ample evidence of that. Some of these carols are internationally known, others have a strong regional flavour. Both categories are represented here.

"The idea behind the program is to introduce a selection of Christmas carols in Austria with the inclusion of the Slovenian linguistic enclave. But the reverse path is also taken: there are wonderful songs to be found in the German-language enclaves in Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Slovakia and other countries in which century old traditions, which have already been lost to us, have been preserved and catalogued by laudable collectors", the editor of this production, Hans Zeppelzauer, writes in the booklet. This means the title of this disc has to be taken with a grain of salt.

The programme performed here is very interesting for more than one reason. Some of the songs are handed down through the ages only orally, and by recording them they are saved from oblivion. Furthermore, the presence of songs from German-speaking regions elsewhere in Europe is important, in particular as the German communities in most of these regions have disappeared. And since this recording contains Christmas carols from several centuries - including the 20th - it displays an unbroken tradition of popular music around Advent and Christmas, right up to our own time. It also shows how little this tradition has been affected by stylistic changes.

The content of popular Christmas carols often has hardly anything to do with the story of Christmas as told in the Bible. An example is 'See und Blick sind zugefroren'. Songs in regional dialects often move far away from the biblical message of Christmas. On the other hand, quite a number specifically refer to the biblical message, in particular those which also appear in religious and particularly liturgical music of the 17th and 18th centuries. Examples include 'Vom Himmel hoch' and 'Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern'. But a more popular song like the proclamation song 'Gegrüsst sei Maria' (track 8) also refers to the meaning of Jesus's birth, when the angel says to Mary: "Your son will save the world from sin".

The varied nature of this programme of songs from different centuries, cultures, languages and dialects makes it a great pleasure to listen to. And both ensembles give excellent performances. I knew the male quartet schnittpunktvokal: I have reviewed a previous recording here last year ('A cappella Christmas' - CPO 777 075-2). I was impressed by the qualities of these four singers, and this recording further validates my positive verdict. The female ensemble were new to me, but here we have again four fine singers who create a beautiful sound, and sing the carols with great sensitivity. As they are of Slovenian origin, naturally they perform the pieces on Slovenian texts, but they also do well in the German-language items.

The most popular and best-known Christmas carol of all times is 'Stille Nacht'. The male voices open this disc with a wonderful performance on the original German text, while the programme closes with a performance of both quartets on the German text and a Slovenian translation.

From the perspective of European cultural history this recording is most interesting. Every year so many discs with Christmas music are released which are utterly predictable or utterly tasteless. This recording is a model of intelligent and creative programming and stylish performance. To anyone who wants to hear something different during the Christmas season I recommend that they try this one. I am sure I'm not the only one who will want to enjoy this disc more than once.

Johan van Veen



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