La Notte: Concertos & Pastorales for Christmas Night

La Notte
Concertos & Pastorales for Christmas Night
Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34278. 65’52

Vivaldi Concerto RV 104 ‘La notte’;
Concerto for Strings RV 270a ‘Il riposo -per il santissimo Natalé
Biber Sonata ‘Pastrorella’
Pavel Joseph Vejvanoský Sonata Laetitiae 
Johann Rauch Sonata No X ‘Pastorella’
Anon Sonate ‘Wie schön leuchtet die Morgenstern’;
Anon Sonate ‘Musikalisch Uhrwerk’; 
Gottfried Finger Pastoralle 
Johann Schmelzer Sonata a 3 ‘Pastorale’

This delightful recording from Bojan Čičić and his The Illyria Consort explores the musical Christmas traditions in 17th-century Catholic Europe, notably Italy and the Hapsburg domains of Austria, Moravia, and Bohemia. This was a period when ‘rustic’ effects were introduced into Christmas instrumental music, usually reflecting the shepherds watching their flocks in the fields at night. And night is where the recording starts, with Vivaldi’s multisectional La notte Concerto (RV 104) – not obviously a Christmas piece, but a nice start to the festivities.

Three of the pieces stem from the court of the Prince-Bishop of Moravia, including the well-known Biber together with Vejvanoský and Finger, who left Moravia for England and the court of James II. Two anonymous Sonatas are found in the Minorite Convent in Vienna, one being an unusual Catholic piece based on a Lutheran chorale – Wie schön leuchtet die Morgenstern, the theme of which emerges occasionally amidst complex string writing. The second Sonata Musikalisch Uhrwerk may not be a Christmas piece, although Robert Rawson, the writer of the detailed notes, suggests it may reflect the song of a night watchman, the opening 12 ‘bell’ strokes being one of the clues.

For those, like me, who dread inevitable Christmas recording releases, this might be one to consider. The more obvious Christmas elements are rather light-touch, and it would make for generally relaxed listening at any time of the year. Bojan Čičić’s violin playing is a characteristic balance of extreme virtuosity and musical sensitivity and sensible restraint. The instrumentalists of Illyria Consort are top-notch, with particular highlights being Sally Holman’s bassoon playing in La notte, Steven Devine’s harpsichord playing in the Musikalisch Uhrwerk, and Joseph Crouch’s cello contribution in Il riposo.

A video of a recording session (in St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire) for Vivaldi’s Il riposo -per il santissimo Natalé can be viewed here.