November 30, 2006
Here's a first-rate chamber-instrumental Christmas program that happily adopts a concept, establishes a mood and style, and stays with it all the way to the end. Guitarist/arranger Claude Gagnon knows his means and his material and he uses both intelligently, artistically, and efficiently, respecting the tunes while giving his players something interesting to play. He derives color and various effects of articulation and texture from various combinations of oboe, two violins, two cellos, and two guitars. Occasionally he creates an alternative melody to expand the reach of a tune, or begins simply and then adds more instruments.
The music ranges from old and not-so-familiar French carols to such favorites as Good King Wenceslas, Noël nouvelet (in a wonderful, infectious arrangement!), Silent Night, the Catalan carol "El Noi de la Mare", and Pietro Yon's beloved Gesu Bambino. There's even an affecting setting of Mel Tormé's Christmas Song (incorrectly listed here as "Merry Christmas"). The inclusion of a movement from Corelli's Op. 6 No. 8 and another from Vivaldi's Gloria doesn't exactly fit the programming scheme, but I suppose with experienced Baroque-music players like these (including a couple of familiar names from the orchestra Les Violons du Roy), why not?
As for the arrangements, you never could accuse Gagnon of hogging the spotlight: his settings expertly exploit the different members of his ensemble, and in a well-mannered rather than extreme or gimmicky way. In other words, the music is very easy to listen to and flows logically from track to track, unlike many such Christmas compilations where the arranger drags listeners through a jarring stylistic hodgepodge--a curious indulgence that compromises a recording's usefulness as a holiday spirit-enhancer or mood-setter. And if this recording is anything it's an ideal accompaniment to the less frantic activities of the season, projected in an appropriately intimate, somewhat bright acoustic. Warmly recommended!
David Vernier - Classics Today USA