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Twelve Days of Christmas: Le Concert Étranger

available at Amazon
Conversations avec Dieu (Motets and Cantatas of Hammerschmidt, Telemann, others), Le Concert Étranger, I. Jedlin

(released on December 3, 2015)
Ambronay AMY045 | 77'17"
So far the concerts of the Festival d'Ambronay have come to my ears solely through the Internet streams from France Musique. Performances of opera and early music are sponsored there, many in the Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Ambronay, in the fall each year, and the festival has been recording some of its regular groups on its private label since 2005. The latest release is the first disc by Le Concert Étranger, an early music ensemble of instrumentalists and singers founded by Itay Jedlin in 2006. The group's latest appearance at this year's festival featured Jedlin's reconstruction of J.S. Bach's St. Mark Passion, recorded in the magnificent acoustic of the abbey church in Ambronay.

While not Christmas music exactly, this disc brings together intensely pious music from Baroque Germany, with texts often in the style of personal conversations between the soul and God, as the title implies. The music, none of it well known, is brought to life in vivid vocal performances, with all voices firing on all pistons in an energetic way. The bass line drops remarkably low in Telemann's fine cantata Ach, Herr, straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn, for example, all taken in stride by Nicolas Brooymans. The psalm settings, dialogues, and Latin motets by Andreas Hammerschmidt (1611-1675) are all excellent discoveries, none more than the solo motet Ergo sit nulla ratio salutis, with a standout performance by soprano Cécile Granger.

Instrumental pieces fill out the program, both for strings and especially pieces for organ, played here by Anne-Marie Blondel on the rather delicious new organ in the church of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption de la Très Sainte Vierge in Champcueil, to the south of Paris, where this recording was captured. This instrument, installed in 2010 and built by the Manufacture d’Orgues Thomas as an imitation of a 17th-century Franco-Flemish instrument, has a broad range of beefy sounds.

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