Jakub Jan RYBA (1765-1815)
Czech Christmas Mass (“Hej, Mistře!”) [38:17]; Anon Czech Christmas Carols – Nesem vám noviny [2:39]; Štĕsti, zdravi, pokoj svatý [1:30]; A teče vodička [2:31]; Půjdem spolu do Betléma [1:32]; Čarovné noci [3:31]; Veselé vánoční hody [2:19]
Hana Škarková (soprano); Marie Vrbová (alto); Petr Leviček (tenor); Richard Novák (bass); Martin Jakubíček (organ); The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno The Czech Chamber Soloists/Petr Fiala rec. Brno, Besedni dům, 12 September 2012
Czech text of Mass included
ARCODIVA UP 0155 CD [53:00]
There is Christmas music which examines seriously and thoughtfully the meaning of Christmas. Ryba’s Christmas Mass is not like that. It is a simple expression of joy, with an almost child-like simplicity of idiom, following the main sections of the Mass but replacing the usual texts with a Czech text mainly concerning the angels appearing to the shepherds and the journey of the latter to see the new-born Christ. It is full of folksy melodies, textures and instrumentation, and listening to a recording of it is always a highlight of my Christmas.
I have owned several versions in the past, most recently one with the Choir and Orchestra of the Czech Madrigalists conducted by František Xaver Thuri (Naxos 8.554428). The present version has several clear defects compared with that on Naxos. The booklet with the latter includes both the Czech text and the English translation which is essential for full enjoyment unless you are fluent in Czech. It also has a more interesting coupling in Ryba’s Missa Pastoralis, shorter than the Christmas Mass but worth hearing.
The assortment of carols for choir and orchestra on the present disc is moderately entertaining heard once but does not seem to demand a rehearing. However before you decide that the Naxos disc is the one to have the more important matter of the actual performance needs to be taken into account. Quite simply, that on the new disc is markedly superior. Right from the start the pungent sounds produced by the organ and orchestra and the more lively playing suggest that this will be a performance of great vitality, enabling the listener immediately to picture the rustic celebrations of which it forms a part. Not that the performance is in any way lacking technically, but there is an obvious and abundant sincerity and eagerness which disarms criticism of the work or the performance. Admittedly there is little to choose between this version and previous versions that I have heard in terms of the inherent quality of soloists, choir, orchestra or recording but it does have the edge in terms of its projection of the fundamental character of the work.
At this point I can add little to help the prospective purchaser. The lack of text and translation and the uninteresting coupling do count against this disc but on balance I would not want to miss such an engaging performance of this very engaging work.
John Sheppard
I would not want to miss such an engaging performance of this very engaging work.