This collection of Christmas music isn't very well identified on its cover, but it makes a fine choice for the holiday season or any other time. The program consists of music composed in German-speaking countries in the seventeenth century. Heinrich Schütz and Michael Praetorius are the best-known composers represented, but most of the music comes from the generations after them, from the middle and later parts of the century. It is, for the most part, thoroughly Italian in style, with the exception of the Lutheran chorales that weave their way through it. These semi-dramatic treatments of various aspects of the Christmas story are mostly for two sopranos, and they're an ideal match for the pair of Britain's Emma Kirkby and Sweden's Susanne Rydén. Kirkby is one of the veterans of the early music vocal scene, and it's not too much to say that she helped provide the world with an alternative model of soprano virtuosity. Her voice has lost none of its liveliness, but it has a thicker quality than before. It makes an intriguing contrast with Rydén's more silvery instrument. The music for the most part avoids the virtuoso quality of Monteverdi's high monodic style; it depends more on interpretation and consistency of tone, both areas in which these singers excel. The booklet notes by Bell'Arte Salzburg conductor Annegret Siedel effectively set out the expressive dimensions of this music; they are in German and English, but he texts of the music are in Latin and German only. Even those who don't speak the language will find a lot to enjoy here, however.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, chorale variation for voice, 2 violins, viola da gamba & continuo
Venite ocius! Transeamus usque in Bethlehem, cantata for 2 voices, 2 violins, 2 violas da gamba, violone & continuo
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star) (from the Polyhymnia caduceatrix)