A French Christmas

To listen to this show, you must first LOG IN. If you have already logged in, but you are still seeing this message, please SUBSCRIBE or UPGRADE your subscriber level today.

Program: #17-51   Air Date: Dec 11, 2017

The late Renaissance and Baroque ways of saying Joyeux Noël!

I & III. Noël Baroque (Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien/Maîtrise de radio France/François Lazarevitch). Alpha CD266.


Since the dawn of Christianity, Christmas has been celebrated with festive singing. In the Baroque era numerous composers such as Charpentier, Delalande, Balbastre, Dandrieu and Daquin created masterpieces out of these simple tunes. When Sofi Jeannin told me of her wish to get her ‘Maîtrise’ choir to sing Christmas music, I was delighted. For a long time I had been gathering French sources of the 17th and 18th centuries with the intention of working on baroque carol arrangements with Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien. I wanted to create something quite different from what had been done before, by treating this repertoire with proper respect: being faithful to the old sources, yet re-working the musical material to make our own personal version. The different languages, regional dialects and accents illustrate the extraordinary diversity and cultural richness of France – as well as of ‘New France’ – at that historical period.—François Lazarevitch.

from Music-Web.com: 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. When 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


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

II. Au Sainct Nau (Ensemble Clement Janequin/Dominique Visse). Alpha CD 198.

From Gramophone: It feels like a long time since the last release from Ensemble Clément Janequin. They’ve been going for about 35 years, and new recordings have been rarer in recent years, but this one – issued just in time to brighten my Christmas – is as impressive in its way as anything I’ve heard from them, and that’s saying something.
This musical tableau dramatises the different attitudes to Christmas at the mid point of the 16th century. It opens with a seasonal plainsong hymn, solemnly intoned, albeit to a ternary lilt. Immediately there follows a parody set to the same tune, and initially sung in the same way, but before the verse is out the tone has begun to change as the text enumerates the victuals gathered at the festive table and describes their increasingly marked effects on the assembled company, the words slurred, the pitching and rhythm listing more and more. It’s classic Dominique Visse, and it had me laughing aloud. Thereafter, the disc alternates sacred and secular with immaculate poise. The former is beautifully done – the accompaniment on chamber organ is reminiscent of their past work in this register – and the latter delivered as lustily as ever. Harking back to the ensemble’s Protestant psalm project, French chansons have their frankly smutty texts replaced by touching depictions of the Nativity. Towards the conclusion, the tension between Protestants and Catholics bursts out into open hostility in a series of musical pamphlets, in which the two faiths consign each other to the devil with equal venom (and, it must be said, relish).

The ensemble continues to do what it does best but retains a freshness and questing spirit that sometimes eludes groups of comparable vintage, a sense of joyous music-making that marked them out from the start and which they’ve never lost. It was utterly infectious then, and it still is.


1  Procession Conditor alme syderum 2:40

2  Procession Conditor le jour de Noël1:20

3  Fantaisie No. 4 sur Conditor alme syderum 

Composed By – Eustache du Caurroy 1:48

4 Noe noe psallite noe

Composed By – Jean Mouton 3:21

5  Missa Noe noe - Kyrie

Composed By – Jacques Arcadelt 8:06

6  Il estoyt une fillette

Composed By – Clément Janequin 3:01

7  Plaisir n'ay plus que vivre en desconfort 4:02

8  Dison Nau à pleine teste

Composed By – Claudin de Sermisy 3:27

9  Au bois de deuil 

Composed By – Claudin de Sermisy 3:48

10  Fantaisie No. 4 sur Une jeune fillette

Composed By – Eustache du Caurroy 1:48

11  O beata infantia

Composed By – Loyset Piéton 8:20

12  Loyset Pieton

Composed By – Eustache du Caurroy 1:37

13  Une jeune pucelle

Composed By – Eustache du Caurroy 3:43

14  Allons gay bergiere

Composed By – Guillaume Costeley 1:37

15  L'on sonne une cloche

Composed By – Claudin de Sermisy 3:35

16  O gras tondus1:4117Vous perdez temps hérétiques infames

Composed By – Claudin de Sermisy 2:16

18  Esprits divins, chantons dans la nuit sainte

Composed By – Claude Goudimel 2:16

19  Missa Noe, noe - Agnus Dei

Composed By – Jacques Arcadelt 7:46