Music for Christmas

The great Italian Baroque conductor Andrea Marcon recreates Vespers of Christmas by Claudio Monteverdi. This is the unexpected title of this 2022 vintage of discs dedicated to the Christmas party. But what else does this year bring us and what safe bets can we turn to?

We know well the Vespers of the Virgin by Monteverdi, work of 1610. This work is associated with Venice, while Monteverdi, born in 1567, only became choirmaster of Saint Mark in Venice in 1613.

See among the 2022 Christmas discs Vespro di Natale of Monteverdi by an authority on Venetian Baroque, Andrea Marcon, is bound to intrigue. What is it about ? Basically a rant, but an intelligent rant. It turned out that Monteverdi worked on Christmas ceremonies for St. Mark. Starting from the concept of Venetian splendor and the period of activity of Monteverdi in Venice (1613 to 1643), and therefore of the works published during this period, Marcon has reconstituted a service of vespers such as they could have taken place in Saint- Marc by complying with a practice that alternated solo pieces, large choirs and instrumental interludes.

Marcon thus has recourse to the sacred Monteverdian collection of the Selva Moralewhich he frames with organ pieces by Giovanni Gabrieli, Monteverdi’s predecessor, and contemporary motets, including a superb Hodie Christus natus is by Giovanni Valentini, so as not to forget that there is something more behind this publication than buoyant seasonal marketing. All this, defended by 16 instrumentalists and 24 singers from La Cetra and the Basel Vocal Ensemble, is very beautiful. But does this particularly put us in the Christmas mood?

Sounds and meditation

The question of the atmosphere does not arise in any way for the best vintage of this 2022 vintage: O Jesulein. A German Baroque Christmas Oratorio, by the Clematis Ensemble at Ricercar. This is also an artificial composition produced by the artistic director of Ricercar, Jérôme Lejeune, coherent in terms of musical and liturgical eloquence.

The journey follows stages: the Annunciation; angels; shepherds and adoration in the manger; Magi ; presentation in the temple; Jesus preaches in the temple. The repertoire draws on the production of Johann Sebastian Bach’s predecessors: Heinrich Schütz, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Franz Tunder, Dietrich Buxtehude and Michael Praetorius, the creator of the famous canticle. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen. These vocal works in German and Latin are supported by a discreet instrumentation, but subject to the most scrupulous attention for the “particular colors that certain instruments can bring to this repertoire”.

Among the brassy sounds, we thus hear krumhornssince Praetorius mentions their use in certain motets, a bass bombarde or big bombardo required by certain Buxtehude compositions. More surprising: “Theracket, whose soft-colored timbre was often imitated by organ playing”. Jérôme Lejeune tells us that this instrument “which would become the oboe during the 17the century appears under the name of schalmey in a few rare scores in Germany”. Lejeune went in search of a copy of schalmey, because the sound is generally associated with the shepherds of the Christmas story. The instrumental erudition of the founder of Ricercar will allow us to recall in passing that this editor published in two unparalleled sound volumes a Guide to musical instrumentspotentially interesting gift.

The third “scholarly” novelty is an import CD published by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (Sony Classical), Pastoral. An Italian Christmas, with Dorothee Oberlinger and Ensemble 1700. It is a mainly instrumental disc, however including a Cantata de Noël by Scarlatti. The concept draws on Baroque inspirations born from the tradition of piffari (fife players) who, at Christmas in Italy, descended from the mountains with bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies, flutes and fiddles reminiscent of the shepherds of the Nativity. Pastoral brings together works by Giovanni Guido, Arcangelo Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Friedrich Händel and Johann Christoph Pez, and is one of the excellent instrumental Christmas CDs.

The German label CPO has made a specialty of introducing rare baroque repertoires every year. The composer of 2022 is Ernst Wilhelm Wolf (1735-1792), a “late Baroque” active in Weimar. The notice attributes to him influences from Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Carl Heinrich Graun, promoters of a pre-classical style which leads to Haydn, but of which we do not really hear the beginnings. Pleasant record for collectors.

Popular Christmas

The more traditional choral records are dominated by two releases. The First Nowellof the Edison Singers conducted by Noel Edison, sumptuously recorded (the definition of the organ!) in Ontario last April provides – in English – the perfect sound framework desired for the occasion.

In a more popular vein (addition of violin, harp and double bass), initially very joyful, but which knows how to meditate and calm down when necessary, and above all very well sung with a real atmosphere, a big congratulations to Bis for the norwegian record Veni — Songs of Christmas II of the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir.

The most prolific publisher is Signum with three publications, all of which are very attached to Great Britain. We will favor the tender and collected In Winter’s House, of Tenebrae, directed by Nigel Short, but which will bring a possible duplicate of the Ceremony of Carols, of Britten, in your discotheque. Into the Lightfrom the Cantus Ensemble, is far too elaborate, and A Pembroke Christmas loses us by wanting to renew the repertoire.

We forget for this year the records of soloists. Sony once again recycles Jonas Kaufmann’s very mediocre CD. And with the current disorganization of Warner on our continent, Diana Damrau’s Christmas CD may arrive at Easter or Trinidad.

Simmer your sound environment

More and more readers are consuming music from on-demand listening platforms. Why not take the opportunity to build your listening list, especially since the platforms allow access to productions that are no longer available on CD? Here are ten proposals from the back of the catalog for a Christmas of all colors.

By looking for “Martin Dagenais”, we come across On Christmas Day, the key disc, recorded by La Petite Bande de Montréal. We will secure in 2e choice the Baroque Christmas Musicians of Saint-Julien, another French proposal.

We can’t miss The way to Christmasby La Chapelle de Québec and Bernard Labadie, published in 2021, nor sacred nighta CD released in 2010 by Naïve and bringing together the Concerto Köln and Accentus under the direction of Laurence Equilbey.

At the same level, more international, Once as I remember…from the Monteverdi Choir conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, an old Philips record, our 5e choice, will be supplemented by Carols Around the World, from the Quink Vocal Ensemble. This record was released in 1989 on Telarc, a long-defunct label. But it is preserved on the platforms.

In the spirit of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s concert, so Christmas Popsadd to the list the Dallas Christmas Gala, led by Andrew Litton, at Delos. It is quite poorly referenced. It can be found under Christmas Galafrom the Dallas Symphony Chorus.

Another huge Christmas reference and 8e recommendation : domino cantatafrom the Oscars Motettkör on Proprius, a legendary record that has long been among the most legendary sound recordings in the catalogue.

Finally, we recommend that you instill the last two suggestions, from Quebec, in your playlist to create, in random listening, an instrumental breath. So choose two titles from the Pianissimo Christmasof the duo Campion-Vachon (Analekta), the Little Christmas by Alain Lefèvre (Analekta) and Christmas around a guitar (Atma). Please note that the latter is listed in the name of oboist Sarah Legendre-Bilodeau rather than guitarist Claude Gagnon.

Happy Holidays, and happy listening.

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Music for Christmas

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