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NoŽl Baroque
MaÓtrise de Radio France/Sofi Jeannin
Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien/FranÁois Lazarevitch
rec. 2015, Auditorium of Radio France, Paris
Texts and translations included
ALPHA 266 [60:19]

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 NoŽls, 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. When in 2015 I attended a concert by the Ensemble Correspondances it included one of the best-known French carols, Joseph est bien mariť from Charpentier's NoŽls sur les instruments, and added the original text; that was the first time I heard it.

We hear these NoŽls 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 NoŽls sur les instruments, and even in his Messe de minuit pour NoŽl 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 NoŽls were particularly popular. Various composers published such arrangements, which found their origin in improvisations. Claude-Bťnigne Balbastre was especially famous for his improvisations on NoŽls: 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 NoŽls are still part of organists' standard repertoire for Christmastide. Among the composers of such pieces are Michel Corrette, Louis-Claude Daquin and Jean-FranÁois Dandrieu.

They also figure in the present programme which includes some well-known NoŽls, such as Or nous dites Marie, Joseph est bien mariť and the NoŽl Suisse. However, here they can be heard with the original texts. FranÁois 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 Quťbec. 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 MaÓtrise 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 NoŽls.

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

Les bourgeois de Ch‚tres (after Michel CORRETTE, 1707-1785) [2:22]
Iesous ahatonnia (after Jean DE BR…BEUF, 1593-1649) [4:23]
NoŽl Poitevin 'Au Saint Nau' (after Andrť RAISON, c1640-1719) [3:10]
Or nous dites Marie (after Louis-Claude DAQUIN, 1694-1772) [5:57]
Quand Dieu naquit ŗ NoŽl (after Michel CORRETTE) [4:04]
C'est une fille muette (trad, Quťbec) [4:01]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 6,8 [12:42]
ņ la venue de NoŽl (after Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER, 1643-1704, & Charles-Hubert GERVAIS, 1671-1744) [2:44]
Si c'est pour oster la vie (after Pierre GU…DRON, c1570-1620) [2:02]
Une jeune pucelle (after Louis-Claude DAQUIN) [5:22]
NoŽl Bressan 'Nos alins racontť l'histoaire' sur l'air des pelerins de Saint-Jacques (after Jean-FranÁois DANDRIEU, 1681-1738)
NoŽl Suisse 'Il est un petit ange' (after Michel CORRETTE) [3:20]
Michel-Richard DE LALANDE (1657-1726)
Simphonie [1:37]
Joseph est bien mariť (after Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER & Charles-Hubert GERVAIS) [3:49]



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