CHRISTMAS CONCERTOS (Capella Istropolitana/ Jaroslav Krecek/ Jiri Stivin/ Karol Kopernicky) (Naxos: 8.550567)
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George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
Pastoral Symphony from Messiah
Giuseppe Torelli (1685- 1709)
Concerto grosso in G Minor, Op. 8 No.6
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Siciliano from Violin Sonata No.4
in C Minor, BWV 1017 (arr. J. Kr(e)cek)
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Largo from Flautino Concerto in C Major, RV 443
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Air from Suite No.3 in B Minor, BWV 1068
Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695 - 1764)
Concerto grosso in F Minor, Op. 1 No.8
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Flute Concerto in F Major, La tempesta di mare, RV 433
attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Capriccio from Suite No.5 in G Minor, BWV 1070
The Concerto grosso, a form of instrumental music in which a smaller group of players, the concertino, generally consisting of two violins, cello and harpsichord, is contrasted with the rest of the orchestra, the ripieno players, developed in the later 17th century and was much imitated by later Baroque composers in the first half of the 18th century. The Christmas Concerto added to this form of composition, or included in it, a siciliano movement, a pastorale, making it suitable for performance during the vigil preceding Christmas Day.
The most famous of all Christmas Concertos was the work of the composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli, first published posthumously in 1714. The genre has an older history. The one musical element that was associated with Christmas was the pastoral Siciliano, a shepherd dance originating in Sicily, described by theorists as a slow gigue, as far its rhythm was concerned, with a generally calming effect on the listener. The first reference to a composition of this kind occurs in 1637 in Venice, with the publication of a collection of Pastorali Concerti al Presepe (Pastoral Music at the Crib), of which one item seems to have been purely instrumental.
Among the composers credited with the development of the concerto, one of the most important is Giuseppe Torelli, who was born in Verona in 1658 but made his career primarily in Bologna, where he was employed in the musical establishment of the basilica of San Petronio and was from 1684 a member of the distinguished Accademia Filarmonica, a musical association demanding the highest standards of academic competence. His Opus 8, published posthumously in 1709, was a set of twelve concerti grossi, described in the title as Concerti grossi con una pastorale per il Sa. Natale. The pastoral referred to forms part of the sixth concerto of the collection.
Johann Sebastian Bach made various use of the Siciliano dance-form, notably in his Christmas Oratorio, where it performs the expected function of setting the scene for shepherds in the fields at the first Christmas. The fourth of his six sonatas for violin and harpsichord, five of which are in church sonata style, contains a Siciliano slow movement. The very familiar Air from the B minor orchestral suite, written during the composer's later career in Leipzig as Cantor at the Thomasschule has no direct connection with the form. The G minor orchestral suite, from which the final Capriccio is included, is probably not by Bach, although recognisably in the style of the period .
Presumably Corelli's Christmas Concerto preceded, in time of composition, the Christmas Concerto of Torelli, since his posthumously published Concerti grossi were well enough known long before his death. Like Torelli, Corelli lived for a time in Bologna, where he developed his technique as a violinist, before moving to Rome, where his presence is recorded from 1675. He was in the service of Queen Christina of Sweden, who had established herself in Rome towards the end of 1655, after abdicating her throne and being received into the Catholic Church. He later had the patronage of Cardinal Pamphili and the young Cardinal Ottoboni. It was possibly for the latter that Corelli wrote his Christmas Concerto, if the present work may be identified with a concerto of similar title written for Ottoboni in 1690.
Antonio Vivaldi, born in Venice in 1678, belongs to the next generation of Italian composers. Ordained priest, he worked intermittently for the musical establishment of the Ospedale della Pietà, an institution for the education of orphan, indigent or illegitimate girls, and famous for the very high standards of musical performance that it boasted. Many of his 550 or so concertos were written for performance at the Pieta. The first of his two C major concertos for flautino, the sopranino recorder, has a slow movement Siciliano, while the flute concerto known as La tempesta di mare, Opus 10, No.1, has a similar element of tranquillity in otherwise relatively stormy surroundings.
Bach's great contemporary, George Frideric Handel, who settled in England, after an earlier career in Hamburg and in Italy, won his initial reputation as a composer of Italian opera, a capacity in which he was employed in London. He later turned his attention to the creation of a form that has exerted a lasting influence over English music, the sacred oratorio. Of his compositions in this form, Messiah is by far the best known. The so-called Pastoral Symphony, which in Handel's score is headed by the word \pifa", a reference to the Italian shepherd pipe, is used with dramatic appropriateness as part of the story of Christmas.
Manfredini and Locatelli were both Italian violinist-composers, in the tradition of Corelli. The former was a pupil of Torelli in Bologna, where he was employed, later moving to Pistoia where he was director of music at the Cathedral of St. Philip from 1727 until his death in 1762. His first set of Concerti grossi was published in Bologna in 1704, a second in 1709 and a third, to which the present Concerto with its Christmas pastorale belongs, in 1718. Locatelli, a native of Bergamo, settled in Amsterdam in 1729, after an earlier career as a virtuoso performer. His twelve Opus Concerti grossi 1, published in Amsterdam in 1721, follow closely the model of Corelli's twelve, the eighth also a Christmas Concerto, with a final pastoral movement to justify the title. An innovation was the inclusion of a viola in the concerti no group, a practice followed by other composers of Locatelli's generation.
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestra works in the recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.
The Czech conductor and composer Jaroslav Kr(e)cek was born in southern Bohemia in 1939 and studied composition and conducting at the Prague Conservatory. In 1962 he moved to Pilsen as a conductor and radio producer and in 1967 returned to P