There’s a clever idea hidden behind the apparent conventionality of this Christmas programme, as the chain of names at one or two places in the headnote may already have indicated: three of the traditional chorales and/or hymn-tunes offer a concatenation of settings by various different composers, some from the Piae Cantiones (the earliest – 1582 – collection of music published in Finland), Sibelius (of course), Praetorius and others, those choral settings themselves interspersed with treatments of the music for organ solo by Bach, Buxtehude and Reger.
The Helsinki Chamber Choir is one of the best in its kind in the world these days, as their recent double album of music by Erik Bergman (also for BIS) made clear; and it is not without reason that Jan Lehtola has become the best-known Finnish organist of our time – the performances are faultless from start to finish. The sameness of some of the more traditional choral passages, though, means that the organ solos (including a couple of free-standing ones by Taneli Kuusisto and Arvi Karvonen) can sometimes bring welcome contrast.
And it is a real shame that no one thought to pass the recording through a noise-reduction filter, since the rumble of the Helsinki traffic outside the Paavalinkirkko forms an obtrusive background to the entire album – a little mud mixed in with the snow.
Riemuitkamme! A Finnish Christmas
Bach/Nikolai: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme; Sibelius arr. Elokas: Give me no splendour, gold or pomp; Madetoja: Throw Off All Your Daily Cares; Piae Cantiones/Praetorius/Scheidt/Buxtehude/Schein: Puer natus in Bethlehem; Kuusisto: Pastorale Op. 18 No. 2, for organ solo; Berlioz transcr. Schweckendiek: L’Enfance du Christ: ‘L’Adieu des Bergers’; Maasalo: Christmas Bells; Piae Cantiones/Sibelius: Ecce novum gaudium; Piae Cantiones/Sibelius/Klemetti: Angelus emittitur; Sibelius: A Child is Born Unto Us; Whittall: Christmas Eve; Bach/Praetorius/Hassler/Othmayr/Reger: Vom Himmel hoch; Rautavaara: Christmas Carol; Sonninen: Christmas Hymn; Karvonen: Pastorale for organ solo; Tchaikovsky: Christ, when a Child, a Garden Made (Legend, Op. 54, No. 5); trad. (Silesian folksong) Glorious is the Earth
Helsinki Chamber Choir; Jan Lehtola organ; cond. Nils Schweckendiek