A Baroque Christmas / Collegium Aureum

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The famous pastoral music in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and in Handel’s Messiah are central parts of a development which spans two hundred years, from about the second half of the seventeenth century until well into the nineteenth. Connoisseurs and experts still disagree on whether the stimulus came from the secular pastoral music of the Renaissance, or whether the Shepherds In Adoration provided the initial inspiration for the composers.

Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653—1713) Christmas Concerto is the oldest of the works. His concerto op. VI No. 8 fatto per la notte di Natale appeared in 1714 a year after the master’s death, in Amsterdam. It undoubtedly belongs to the last period of Corelli’s work and is among his most famous — not only by virtue of its festive Christmas spirit, but more specifically because it constitutes one of the most impressive and accomplished examples of the Concerto grosso. The balanced beauty of the many movements of the ecclesiastical work is in happy concordance, as can be felt in the depth of the sentiment, the vigour of expression, the enchanting sounds of the strings, the supreme virtuosity of the arrangement of the solo parts, and the classical harmony. The Pastorale exhibits in its unique perfection the combined stylistic features of pastoral music: the swaying Sicilian rhythm, the tender, peaceful interval of the thirds and the imitation of the bagpipe’s drone. As J. N. Forkel understands it, Corelli in composing this work had a vision of the Angel on High over Bethlehem. Whatever the case may be, one readily agrees with Einstein who called this Pastorale "the musical companion-piece to Sandro Boticelli’s Nativity".

Johann Christoph Pez (1664—1716) was a contemporary of Corelli. Despite his studies in Rome, his whole professional life was spent in South and West Germany, in Munich, Stuttgart and Düsseldorf. Pez underlines the festive and pastoral character of his Concerto through the treble parts which are intended for the two flutes. He acquires a delightful textural contrast by his masterly juxtaposition of violin with two viols or violas.

Two of the movements are designated as Pastorale; the others (with the exception of the Chaconne) are called Aria by the composer, who thus freely concedes a secular and in parts popular character. Francesco Manfredini‘s (ca. 1680—1748) opus III appeared in Bologna in 1718, where the composer had finished his apprenticeship under Torelli. Manfredini too designated his three-movement Concerto fatto per la notte di Natale,that is, for performance at the Christmas Mass. The transition from the Concerto grosso to the purely instrumental concerto can be traced in this work. In some sections the two solo violins have to master tasks which can be attributed to a solo violin in a violin concerto. In style too, this late Baroque composition foreshadows a possible future gallantry and sensitivity of expression, without meanwhile sacrificing the gravity and elevation of an authentic sonata da chiesa to the sweetness and pleasance of the sound.

Giuseppe Tartini’s life (1692 1770) reads rather like a novel. Throughout his life he was very closely connected with the Franciscans; his teacher was the famous Bohemian master, Cernohorsky, a Franciscan monk from Prague who lived a long time in Assisi. It seems almost inconceivable that the same master who envisaged “the devil’s trill” in a hell-like vision, could also have composed simple Franciscan church music. In this three-movement symphony for strings, the transition from Rococo to true Classicism can already be noted.

Carl de Nys

Product Description:

  • Release Date: November 06, 2007

  • Catalog Number: RCA61882

  • UPC: 090266188222

  • Label: Sony

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Arcangelo Corelli, Francesco Manfredini, Giuseppe Tartini, Johann Christoph Pez

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Collegium Aureum