Jan Jacub RYBA (1765-1815)
Czech Christmas Mass (1796) [34.50]
Dear Children – pastorella [2.46]
Song of Praise for the Festival of the Birth of Christ: Hej, hej, bratri [6.21]
Jan Václav Antonín STAMITZ (1717-1757) Sinfonia pastorale in D major Op. 4 no. 2 [13.24]
Václav PICHL (1741-1805) Sinfonia pastorlis in D [14.14]
Anna Hlavenková (soprano); Sylva čmugrová (alto); Jan Ondrejka (tenor); Roman Janál (bass); Pavel černý (organ/harpsichord); Czech Boy’s Choir Boni Pueri/Pavel Horák; Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Marek Štryncl
rec. Pardubice House of Music, 29-31 August 2011. DDD
ARCODIVA UP 0142-2131 [72.12]
Even in the UK this Mass has made several appearances on LP and CD. I recall a version or two in the 1960s. In fact I never particularly took to the piece but the notes for this CD by Bohuslav Vitek remind us that it is the most performed and is enjoyed by amateurs, professionals, children and street musicians. It clearly has something of an iconic status in its native land.
This recording goes back to the original sources from which the conductor has made his own edition. This is an attempt to render something approaching an authentic version. There are numerous versions and copies of the Mass but this recording reflects conductor Marek Štryncl’s decision to use the oldest existing score dating from 1827. This has parts for a trumpet and bassoon with boys’ voices which Ryba would have had at his disposal. One can say that it is “stylistically informed” with its care for the original articulations and expression marks.
Štryncl writes a fascinating essay entitled, ‘Notes on the Performance of Czech Pastoral Compositions’. In this he remarks that this recording “made it necessary to give the solo parts to strong adult voices”. He also says - much to my relief - that “wide vibrato goes against the grain”. Well, that holds true for the strings but sadly not for the soloists or at least not consistently. He comments too on speed intriguingly pointing out that Adagio might be marked to run concurrently with Prestissimo! This shows that the “tempo markings often concern not so much speed but expression”.
The two shorter pieces by Ryba are ‘Pastorellas’. He wrote many such. Some are for solo voice but using two or more voices in a dialogue. These might have grown into larger-scale works. So the Song In Praise of the Festival of the Nativity, subtitled charmingly ‘Hey, Hey, brothers’ is for baritone and chorus. The simple and attractive ‘Dear Children’ is a duet - part of a set of ‘Six Songs of Praise for the Festival of Christmas’. The functional harmony is clearly folk-based and the melodies are very quickly assimilated. I cannot give you any clear or further ideas about the texts - which for these pieces may well have been written by the composer - as the nicely presented booklet contains no texts whether in Czech or in translation. For my money this is a major drawback and the many attractive photos of the performers do not compensate,. Even so, I have enjoyed this Mass and indeed the performances more than any other version I have ever heard. For a ‘Brit’ like me, the language and style will never quite gel. Even so, the word that constantly comes to mind is charming. It’s all quite seasonal in its happy disposition.
There are two attractive Sinfonias. One is by a significant master Johann Stamitz who was one of the founders of the Mannheim school who developed the symphony in its earliest pre-Haydn days. Stamitz begins with his trademark crescendo. The first movement is quite dramatic. There are three other movements: a Minuet and Trio and a Rondo-form Presto finale with many attractive orchestral ‘effects’. It’s difficult to describe this piece as ‘Christmassy’. The same goes for the Sinfonia by the once very famous Václav Pichl. This also is in four movements. Its opening idea is based around a bagpipe–like drone - the pastoral element, I suppose. There’s a major role for the bassoon, with an oboe embedded into the texture and a timpani part providing underpinning. The fourth movement is a frankly joyous finale with the occasional earnest episode. Both of these pieces are played with vigour and clarity. They make out a good case for these composers.
It might be an idea, if you want to search and find out more about this recording to first view the company’s website.

Gary Higginson
Charming. It’s all quite seasonal in its happy disposition.