Beguiling and Energetic Holiday Songs and Dances from Canada
ATMA Classique ACD2 2523
This hasn't been a bumper year for new recordings of holiday music. But there have been a few, and La Veillée de Noël is one of the best. It's the only holiday album I will be writing about here this year, in plenty of time for you to order a copy from Amazon.com or any other reputable mail-order house.
The songs mostly come from a songbook called Rondes et Chansons Populaires Illustrées, published in Paris in the late 1890s. There is a whole section devoted to Noëls, with each being named after a location, such as "Noël Lorrain" and "Noël de Paris," and they are as varied in character as the places they are named after.
Since these tracks are in a sense "folk tunes," there are bits and pieces of them that will sound familiar, but each song was new to me. Suzie LeBlanc, a singer of great versatility and appeal, is accompanied by a quintet of instrumentalists playing such folk-associated instruments as harmonium, melodica, accordion, and dulcimer. More classically associated instruments such as piano, harpsichord, bass, and drums are on hand as well.
The music ranges from reels and jigs to French chanson. You’re going to hear a wide variety of styles working comfortably together -- folk, jazz, chanson -- all sung and played with energy and charm. I mentioned LeBlanc's versatility; in the booklet for the album are picture CDs of Mozart lieder and Handel duets, but her voice doesn't sound at all "operatic" on this album.
The album was recorded in the concert hall of the Monument Lefebvre in Memramcook, New Brunswick, Canada, and it proves a very good location. The overall sound is absolutely clean yet not dry. Rather it seems ideal for this concert, with just enough warmth and just enough clarity.
If you're looking for a new holiday album that will delight, this one just might be the ticket for you.
Be sure to listen to: There's a new version of "Cantique de Noël" here that seems to have nothing to do with the famous one by Adolphe Adam. It was recorded without LeBlanc's vocals, and it's scored for just violin and harpsichord. It's a delicate, longing sound that seems "just so," and it touched my ears quite agreeably. Louder isn't always better.
. . . Rad Bennett