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"Noël baroque"

Maîtrise de Radio France; Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien
Dir: Sofi Jeannin, François Lazarevitch

rec: Jan 2015, Paris, Radio France (Auditorium)
Alpha - 266 (© 2016) (60'19")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jean DE BRÉBEUF (1593-1649): Iesous ahatonnia; Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704) / Charles-Hubert GERVAIS (1671-1744): À la venue de Noël; Joseph est bien marié; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 6,8; Michel CORRETTE (1707-1785): Les bourgeois de Châtres; Noël Suisse 'Il est un petit ange'; Jean-François DANDRIEU (1681-1738): Noël Bressan 'Nos alins raconté l'histoaire' sur l'air des pelerins de Saint-Jacques; Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772): Or nous dites Marie; Une jeune pucelle; Pierre GUÉDRON (c1570-1620): Si c'est pour oster la vie; Michel-Richard DE LALANDE (1657-1726): Simphonie; André RAISON (c1640-1719): Noël Poitevin 'Au Saint Nau'; trad (Québec): C'est une fille muette

Elsa Franck, recorder, oboe; Niels Coppalle, recorder, bassoon; François Lazarevitch, transverse flute, musette; Bojan Cicic, Sophie Iwamura, violin; Nicolas Sansarlet, viola; Valentin Tournet, viola da gamba; Enea Sorini, baryton, tympanon, percussion; Bruno Helstroffer, theorbo, guitar; Jean Rondeau, organ

Across the globe Christmas carols are sung during the last months of the year. English carols take a major part of the repertoire, and some of them are very famous. In contrast French carols, so-called Noëls, are far less commonly known, although some have been transported to other countries and are sung in translations. It is rather strange that the original texts of those carols are hardly known. In 2015 I attended a concert by the Ensemble Correspondances. It included one of the best-known French carols, Joseph est bien marié from Charpentier's Noëls sur les instruments, and added the original text; that was the first time I heard it.

We hear these Noëls mostly in instrumental versions. It is notable that French composers of the 17th and 18th centuries never set them with a text; they rather treated them as a kind of 'songs without words'. Charpentier did so in his Noëls sur les instruments, and even in his Messe de minuit pour Noël which is based on carols, the original texts are absent, as Charpentier replaced them with the text of the Mass. In the 18th century organ arrangements of Noëls were particularly popular. Various composers published such arrangements, which found their origin in improvisations. Claude-Bénigne Balbastre was especially famous for his improvisations on Noëls: when he played them at St Roch every year at Midnight Mass, the performance attracted such a crowd that in 1762 the archbishop finally forbade him to play. Today arrangements of Noëls are still part of organists' standard repertoire for Christmastide. Among the composers of such pieces are Michel Corrette, Louis-Claude Daquin and Jean-François Dandrieu.

They also figure in the present programme which includes some well-known Noëls, such as Or nous dites Marie, Joseph est bien marié and the Noël Suisse. However, here they can be heard with the original texts. François Lazarevitch, director of Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien, is responsible for the concept of this disc, and he came up with the splendid idea to sing those texts to the arrangements, some of which are so well known. This way we can experience what inspired composers to some of their nicest works. Lazarevitch chose those variations which best suited his ensemble's instruments.

Some pieces are in dialect, and the programme also includes two pieces from Québec. One of them is Iesous Ahatonnia which is in the language of the Huron or Wyandot people, one of the indigenous peoples of North America, who are still living in Canada. It is interesting that all the pieces are sung in historical pronunciation. This is a practice that is still rather uncommon, but greatly contributes to the authenticity of this programme.

One can only admire that the young singers of the Maîtrise de Radio France - the youth choir of French radio - are so well able to adopt that rather uncommon pronunciation. However, they are obviously very skilful and used to break new ground as they regularly give first performances of contemporary music. This disc also attests to their capabilities. I have greatly enjoyed their singing. They produce a very nice and fresh sound and act with great agility. Some songs are performed at a pretty high speed but even then the text is clearly intelligible.

The 'Christmas concerto' by Arcangelo Corelli is a bit of an outsider in the programme. It is Italian and is played here in an arrangement with recorders, published in London in 1725. It is a nice version, but considering the character of this disc I would have preferred some more Noëls.

That is a token of my appreciation of the repertoire which is presented here and the way it is performed. If you would like to add something to your collection of Christmas discs which is different from what you already have, this disc is the one to go for. I am sure you will return to it every year during Christmastide.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Maîtrise de Radio France
Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien

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