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"Baroque Christmas"

Kathryn Muellera, Wanda Yang Temkob, soprano; Chris Conley, altoc; Brian Thorsett, tenord; Cameron Beauchamp, basse
New Trinity Baroque
Dir: Predrag Gosta

rec: Feb 2007 & Sept 2010, Atlanta, St Bartholomew's Episcopal Church
Edition Lilac - 291211-2 (© 2011) (65'57")
No liner-notes; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Christoph BERNHARD (1628-1692): Fürchtet euch nichta; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Das neugeborne Kindelein (BuxWV 13)acde; Passacaglia in d minor (BuxWV 161), arr Predrag Gosta; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Concerto grosso 'fatto per la notte di Natale' in g minor, op. 6,8; Francesco Onofrio MANFREDINI (1684-1762): Concerto grosso Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale in C, op. 3,12; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): O di Betlemme altera, Cantata pastorale per la nascità di Nostro Signoreb; Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709): Concerto à 4 in forma di Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale, op. 8,6

Every year a considerable number of Christmas discs is released. Sometimes the programme is quite original, sometimes we get music which is rather familiar. That is also the case here, probably with the exception of the sacred concerto by Christoph Bernhard. That in itself is no reason to assess a disc negatively. In the end it all depends on the quality of the performance.

Christmas concertos were especially popular in Italy where they were played during Christmas celebrations. Several composers wrote such pieces in the form of a concerto grosso which was mostly printed as part of a collection of such concertos. Usually just one movement has the typical rhythm and mood of pastorale. Corelli's Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 6,8 is by far the most famous; the pastorale is here the closing movement. Giuseppe Torelli worked most of his life in Bologna and not only contributed to the development of the concerto grosso but also the repertory for trumpet and strings. His Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 8,6 is in just three movements, with the pastorale - like Corelli's with the character indication of 'largo' - in the middle. The disc ends with the Concerto grosso in C, op. 3,12 by Francesco Onofrio Manfredini who was a pupil of Torelli. It is also in three movements, and here the pastorale - again a 'largo' - is the opening movement. In all these concertos the other movements also include some elements which refer to the atmosphere of Christmas.

These three instrumental works receive very fine performances here. In Corelli the opening movement's second section, 'grave', is particularly beautiful. The 'vivace' is played in a relatively moderate tempo; in the closing largo the first violin adds some nice ornamentation. The 'largo' of the Torelli concerto is performed with great subtlety and much expression. Manfredini's concerto - and this disc - end with a vivid allegro. The musicians of New Trinity Baroque have a particularly good sense of rhythm. The fast movements have a nice and infectious swing, the slow swaying rhythms of the pastorale movements are realised with gentle precision.

Two of the vocal items are by German composers. Those who regularly read my reviews will know that I am often quite critical about performances of German music by English-speaking interpreters. They often don't quite understand what it takes to fully explore the character of this repertoire. The German pronunciation is often quite a problem as well. I am happy to report that any fears in this department are unfounded. In the cantata by Buxtehude the pronunciation of the four singers is remarkably good, and their performance shows that they understand the peculiar character of German music. The dynamic contrasts and the differentiation between good and bad notes is more marked here than in the Italian pieces, and rightly so. In Fürchtet euch nicht by Christoph Bernhard - a pupil of Heinrich Schütz - it is noticeable that German is not Kathryn Mueller's native language, but only if one listens very carefully. Her performance is very stylish. The third German piece is again by Buxtehude: an arrangement for strings and basso continuo of the Passacaglia in D which was originally written for organ. It works very well with strings, and New Trinity Baroque delivers an outstanding performance: beautiful string playing and excellent ensemble. I especially enjoyed the treatment of dynamics.

The Cantata pastorale by Alessandro Scarlatti is one of the most popular Christmas pieces of the baroque era. It is a beautiful piece with pastoral references in various arias, but especially in the last, comprising two stanzas in dacapo form. Wanda Yang Temko has a beautiful and supple voice. I like the way she sings the recitatives, with just the right amount of rhythmical freedom. She is a little too modest, though; I would have liked a bit more presence, and also a little less vibrato. Some high notes in the second aria seem not quite comfortable. All in all I enjoyed her singing, and in particular the closing aria is well done.

The repertoire of this disc may be mostly pretty familiar, but I don't hesitate to recommend it anyway. If you have read my review of a disc with Vivaldi concertos by New Trinity Baroque you will have noticed that I like the ensemble's sound. Once again I am impressed by their performances, and specially the warm and pleasant sound of their strings. I very much appreciate Predrag Gosta's approach to the repertoire he chooses to perform. I definitely hope to hear more from this ensemble.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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