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CD booklet
Simphonies des noëls

March 24, 2017

During the Baroque period there developed two distinctive genres of instrumental music for Christmas: the Italian “Christmas concerto” (a concerto grosso incorporating a pastorale movement, usually at the end) and the French instrumental noël (instrumental arrangements of popular Christmas carols). This disc gathers together several examples of both genres. Michel-Richard Delalande was court musician to King Louis XIV in Versailles, and his Simfonies des noëls was originally performed there on Christmas night. Marc-Antoine Charpentier published his Noëls pour les instruments around 1690 alongside his celebrated Messe de minuit pour Noël, based on the same popular carols. This music is filled with grace, sweetness, innocence, and tenderness perfectly suggestive of the nativity scene.

The Italian Christmas concertos have a measure of this sweet innocence while also admitting a hardier, dance-like vigor. The most famous example here is, of course, the Corelli; but the Torelli is also well worth hearing and the Sammartini is a real find. Giuseppe Sammartini (c. 1695–1751, not to be confused with his better-known brother Giovanni Battista Sammartini, early pioneer of the symphony) was an oboist who worked in England for a good portion of his career. His G-Minor Christmas Concerto is a gem, incorporating Italian and French as well as Baroque and pre-Classical elements. It begins with a declamatory introduction (with solo violin arabesques) which leads to a fugued allegro. The second movement is a French-style rondo; both this and the concluding Pastorale are tender and enchanting, mixing Corellian warmth with moments that sound almost pre-Mozartean.

In Torelli’s concerto (also in G Minor), the pastoral element comes through in two Vivaces: this is not tender music evocative of the Christ child in the manger, but vigorous music suggestive of the rusticity of the shepherds. The last Vivace is especially catchy with its jig-like rhythmic figures over a bass drone. The Concerto Pastorale by Johann Christoph Pez, scored for two recorders and strings, reconciles the Italian concerto grosso and the French suite. Its seven movements are charming and convivial throughout, though perhaps the lengthy Passacaglia outstays its welcome a bit. Corelli’s Concerto fatto per la notte di natale needs no introduction, and it is given a treasurable performance here.

This is a reissue of a recording originally made in 1993 by Les Violons du Roy, the noted string chamber orchestra based in Quebec City. Les Violons’ calling card is playing with period bows on conventional modern instruments. This compromise allows for the lift and lilt of the Baroque bow to be combined with the familiar timbre and pitch of modern strings. Listeners who simply don’t take a shine to the sound of period instruments may well find this approach the most congenial. On the other hand, if diehard period instrument fans want to sample an earthier or more biting approach to these works they can try Il Giardino Armonico’s Teldec recording, an album which replicates the Corelli, Torelli, and Pez from this program.

But Les Violons’ playing is gorgeous here. Already at this early stage of the ensemble’s career, its members had clearly refined their art to a high polish. The concertino and ripieno groups are well balanced, inner voices are brought out, and dynamic contrasts are beautifully graded. Continuo is supplied by a chamber organ and a theorbo. These performances of warmth, sweetness, grace, and precision are enhanced by the sympathetic acoustic of Saint Isidore Church in Quebec City.

A highlight of the recording is the beautiful central adagio of the Corelli, which is treated with hushed reverence. When the allegro section breaks in, it does so like the distant rumbling of an earthquake as opposed to the loud, cataclysmic eruption which Il Giardino Armonico makes on its recording. Giardino’s disc is hardly to be listened to while drinking hot cocoa and trimming the tree, while Les Violons’ disc is perfect for that purpose. Not that it is only made for that, of course; this music-making is not only soothing but intelligent and spirited as well. Recommended as a Christmas gift to savor.

©2017 Michael De Sapio - Fanfare

Le Devoir
December 17, 2016

 Un Noël musical pastoral et planant

Le marché des disques de Noël connaît un surprenant millésime 2016. Entre des dizaines de parutions, voici un tour d’horizon de celles qui ont retenu notre attention.

Joie ! Atma réédite le disque Simphonies des noëls enregistré en 1992 par Les Violons du Roy et Bernard Labadie pour feu l’étiquette Dorian. Comme pour le Requiem de Mozart, Atma exploite désormais sous licence cette référence indisponible pendant de longues années. Simphonies des noëls, programme entièrement instrumental, comprend des oeuvres de De Lalande, de Charpentier, de Sammartini, de Torelli, de Pez et de Corelli. Labadie et ses musiciens abordent ce répertoire de manière détendue et pastorale, sans à-coups. Le disque complète bien le CD Noëls des Boréades, paru jadis sur ce même catalogue Atma.

Simphonies des noëls, un socle de discothèque pour nombre d’années, éclipse aussi en consistance et en cohérence le Berliner Philharmoniker – The Christmas Album publié par Deutsche Grammophon. [...]

Christophe Huss - Le Devoir

December 13, 2016

The second CD comes from the ATMA Classique label and features the Canadian chamber orchestra, Les Violons du Roy conducted by Bernard Labadie in a program called Simphonies des Noel. It is actually a re-release of Labadie’s first album for ATMA Classique. Les Violons du Roy is based in Quebec City and specializes in correctly informed performances of music from the Baroque Era.

The musicians give spirited dance-like readings of the two “Christmas Concertos” by Giuseppe Torelli and Arcangelo Corelli which relate more closely to the story of shepherds keeping watch than do other performances. Trraveling from Italy to France, Labadie leads idiomatic and appealing performances of Christmas music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, stopping by Germany to play some fine Nativity music by Fux. The recording is superb—sounding exactly as a small orchestra of strings with two recorders added should sound. The tuttis are exceptionally clear. It’s really good to have this delightful one back!

© Rad Bennett - RadsReferenceReviews 

Le Journal de Montréal
December 10, 2016

Même si ce disque à Noël n’est pas une nouveauté en soi (1993), il est toujours passionnant d’entendre les Violons du Roy. Sous la baguette de Bernard Labadie, cette formation rompue à tout l’univers baroque offre un Noël tout en douceur. Alliant la précision à l’infinie tendresse, nous entrons dans un Noël chatoyant bercé par Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Corelli ou le très beau, mais inusité Concerto pour Noël de Giuseppe Sammartini. Un très beau cadeau à petit prix, et en plus, nous encourageons des gens d’ici.

Christophe Rodriguez - Le Journal de Montréal

Blog: Music for Several Instruments
October 27, 2016

Old favourites at Christmas

If there's one classical CD I've listened to more than any other in the past decade, it's this one with Les Violons du Roy under their founder, Bernard Labadie. Or rather, it's the original of this new reissue by ATMA Classique, first released by Dorian Sono Luminus in 1993. The reissue is due out on November 4, 2016. In some ways it's easier to review a brand new disc I've never heard before than a cherished one that has its MP3 files worn down by constant listening. It's hard to be objective about something I know so well. Perhaps a new version, even by the same group, might be more stylish. After all, the art and science of Historically Information Performance moves ahead every year. But surely there's something to be said, especially at Christmas time, for dearly loved tradition. This is simply the best selection of Baroque pastoral music, which goes best with snow falling on Christmas Eve.

Dean Frey - Blog: Music for several instruments