In Venice in the 18th century, Christmas was celebrated as only Venetians know how to celebrate: according to one account, more wax was burnt to light up the three storeys of the Procuratie on Christmas Eve, than in all the rest of Italy in an entire year. At the same time, rather than being an independent feast – and as such, the most singularly important one of the year – the Venetian Christmas was also part of the city's famous Carnevale, which at this time lasted for almost six months. This lent a rather special character to the celebrations, compared with for instance the more clerically inclined Rome. We know that much of the Christmas festivities – in churches, in the streets or at private parties – involved music, but very little of the actual repertoire has been identified. Possibly this is also a reflection of the role of Christmas in Venice – although a festive occasion, it wasn't an isolated one, and much of the music heard at Christmas would or could be played on suitable feast days throughout the year.
Together with the soloists Ruby Hughes and Komalé Akakpo, Martin Gester and Arte dei Suonatori have constructed a colourful programme of music that we either know or can easily conjecture was being played during a typical Venetian Christmas. Naturally it includes music by Antonio Vivaldi, the city's great son, as well as by Johann Adolph Hasse, who throughout his life was a regular visitor, and who spent his last ten years there. It also features the psaltery or salterio, an instrument beloved by the Venetians, heard here as solo as well as continuo instrument. Three of the works by Vivaldi are performed in versions prepared by Olivier Fourès, and are recorded here for the first time, including the Andante ‘Il Riposo per il Santissimo Natale’ with Ewa Golińska, co-leader of Arte dei Suonatori, as violin soloist."