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Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht
Andrea Ihle (soprano), Antje Perscholka (soprano), Martin Wölfel (alto)
Virtuosi Saxoniae/Ludwig Güttler (trumpet and corno da caccia)
No recording details provided
BERLIN CLASSICS 0301165BC [76:41]

First impressions can be misleading; this CD looked to me to be a bit of relatively harmless opportunism. A compilation from various existing recordings perhaps, in time for the Festive Season? A suspicion was strengthened by the presence of excerpts from the Christmas Oratorio, Messiah, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto etc. In fact it turned out to be a total delight from start to finish; the whole thing is the brainchild of the legendary (used advisedly) trumpeter Ludwig Güttler, who doubles as the conductor of the superb Virtuosi Saxoniae. (It is a reissue of a 2008 release - Ed.)

The programme begins and ends with brass ensemble arrangements of that most beautiful of carols Stille Nacht by Franz Gruber. In between we have a delicious sequence of 18th century music, almost all of the works having the rocking 6/8 or 12/8 rhythmic patterns that characterise Stille Nacht.

If that sounds soporific, then let me tell you that it is not so at all! There are well-known glories, from the Sinfonia of the second cantata of Bach’s Weihnachts Oratorium, through the Messiah extracts of the Pifa (or Pastoral Symphony) and the duet He shall feed his flock, to Corelli’s Christmas Concerto finale. In amongst those, we have lesser lights such as Johann David Heinichen, whose Pastorale for Christmas Eve is an early example of the use of clarinets, Francesco Manfredini’s very lovely Pastorale for the Most Holy Birth, and the Siciliano from Johann Röllig’s Concerto for Corno da Caccia and Strings.

The corno da caccia turns up several times. This is a small 18th-century instrument, translated literally as ‘hunting horn’, played here by Güttler himself with utter fluency and beauty of tone, reminiscent in its creamy smoothness of the modern flugelhorn. Güttler also gives us the Andante of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, which might seem out of place until you hear its gently rocking rhythm, and reflect that it has that same Christmas Eve feeling as do so many of the other pieces.

All of the items are quite short, and there is just enough variety to prevent any sense of uniformity. There is, for example, a rollicking version of Michael Praetorius’s In Dulci Jubilo from his great Musae Sioniae, arranged by Güttler for large brass ensemble. It sounds terrific! Try it after lunch on Christmas Day – something fresh and crisp to help the pudding down, in the manner of a drop of top-class Piesporter.

There are also very fine vocal contributions from the soloists listed, and excellent orchestral playing. The whole thing is honestly one of the most captivating things I have heard all year. Enjoy!

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Franz Xavier GRUBER (1787-1863)
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht arr. Ludwig Güttler [3:00]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Christmas Oratorio: Sinfonia [5:58], Wir singen Dir in Deinem Heer [1:18]
Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah: Pifa [2:38]
Johann David HEINICHEN (1683-1729)
Pastorale per lanotte di natale [4:59]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1841)
Concerto for violins, strings and continuo, RV270 [8:48]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Concerto grosso Op. 6 No. 8, ‘Christmas Concerto’: Allegro – Largo [5:22]
Georg Philip TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Concerto for oboe d’amore: Siciliano [2:32]
Francesco MANFREDINI (1684-1762)
Concerto grosso Op. 3 No. 12: Largo [3:51]
Gloria, RV 589: Domine Deus [3:14]
Johann BAER (1655-1700)
Concerto à 4 for posthorn, corno da caccia, 2 violins and continuo: Siciliano [1:42]
Johann Georg RÖLLIG (1710-1790)
Concerto for corno da caccia, strings and continuo: Siciliano [4:02]
Johann Joachim QUANTZ (1697-1773)
Concerto for corno da caccia, oboe, strings and continuo: Siciliano [3:01]
Concerto for two corni da caccia, strings and continuo, RV 539: Larghetto [2:18]
Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621)
Musae Sioniae: In Dulci Jubilo arr. Güttler [7:03]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Concerto for trumpet and orchestra: Andante [4:06]
Georg Friedrich HANDEL
Messiah: He shall feed His flock [4:54]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Concerto for harpsichord, strings and continuo, BWV 1055 (reconstruction for oboe d’amore): Larghetto [5:05]
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, arr. Güttler [2:52]


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