Magdalena Kožená

Jakub Jan Ryba: Czech Christmas Mass; 3 Pastorellas

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Jakub Jan Ryba's Czech Christmas Mass, the composer's most famous work, has a kind of local cultural significance analogous to the importance of Handel's Messiah in English-speaking countries. Ryba, born between Mozart and Beethoven, uses the language of the late Classical era, and his Mass has an entirely unpretentious folk-like quality and directness. Ryba's music and his orchestrations in particular, are full of wit and fresh inventiveness, but he seems innocent of melodic or harmonic complexity. The effect, though, is not predictably simplistic, but charmingly rustic and emotionally transparent. The performers here, while clearly artists of the utmost sophistication, have just the right unmannered approach for the music, and it comes off beautifully. Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozená, recorded very early in her career; sings with a gorgeous, open tone; and heartfelt affection for the music. She brings the same clarion sweetness to three of Ryba's Pastorellas, lyrical lullabies for the baby Jesus. The other soloists, Gabriela Eibenová, Jaroslav Brezina, and Michael Pospísil, match the purity, clarity, and simplicity of Kozená's performance. Robert Hugo leads Capella Regia Musicalis (which has since been renamed Capella Regia Praha), an ensemble of singers and original period instrumentalists, in a performance of exceptional delicacy and charm. The sound is clean with a nice sense of presence. This best-selling album, which went platinum in 2003, should delight listeners looking for alternative Christmas repertoire, as well as fans of vocal music of the Classical era.

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