Jakub Jan RYBA (1765-1815)
Czech Christmas Mass

Three pastorellas [10:30]
Czech Christmas Mass [39:31]
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo)
Gabriela Eibenová (soprano)
Jaroslav Brezina (tenor)
Michael Pospíšil (bass)
Capella Regia Musicalis/Robert Hugo
rec. September 1998, Church of Our Lady of the Convent, Kladruby (Czech Republic)
Relatively unknown outside Central Europe, Jakub Jan Ryba’s Christmas Mass has been an important part of Christmas festivities in Bohemia and Moravia for over two hundred years. Under his father’s guidance, Ryba followed the family tradition of teaching – an occupation that caused him much frustration and misery - and was almost certainly a causal factor in his suicide in 1815. Although devoting himself to teaching, he was also an excellent musician – and his compositions, which tended towards small ensembles, are marked by an unfussy classical texture and the incorporation of Czech folksong elements.
The Czech Christmas Mass, popularly known as “Hej, mistre” (“Hey, Master”) is by far his best known work. It is quite wonderful – and a real shame that at the time of writing it appears to have received very little attention in the press. The recording has actually existed for around ten years, but has only now received an international release - an inferior recording has been available on Naxos since 2001. Although a Mass in name, the work comprises a series of simple but attractive pastorellas, most of which focus on one or two vocal parts gently underpinned by woodwind, organ and strings. This is perfect Christmas music – unobtrusive but attractive and joyful, and very well recorded. One can clearly hear that the forces of Capella Regia Musicalis are steeped in this music – everything just sounds right. Magdalena Kožena, now a household name for most, was far less well known when this recording was made – and I must say that I have never heard her sounding as completely unforced and natural as she does here. In the notes Kožena describes how the music recalls an earlier period of her life when she first started singing in the churches and castles of her homeland, and that in this recording she was able to rediscover “that same joy in simply making music”.
With this work, it seems somehow inappropriate to single out particular movements or individual performances. There is nothing revolutionary or complex here, but the music is very fine, coherent and richly satisfying. If you are looking for staggering genius, turn to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. However, if you would prefer something that has a spark of Christmas magic, that is warmly conveyed and will gently raise the spirits, please do check out this recording. As a further incentive, the disc includes three free-standing pastorellas sung by Kožena which, in keeping with the main work, are beautifully performed.
Peter Bright
A wonderful antidote to the usual Christmas fayre – very warmly recommended. ... see Full Review