THE ROAD TO CHRISTMAS
La Chapelle de Québec
Bernard Labadie (conductor)
We were losing hope that the year of our Lord 2021 would produce a masterpiece of a Christmas album, but finally one arrived, late in the game (released in the U.K. and in Canada on December 10), in the form of La Chapelle de Québec’s conceptual gem, The Road to Christmas. The album remains unavailable in the U.S. in CD form due to problems with a U.K. distributor, but digital downloads are available at Presto Music and of individual songs at Amazon. The entire album (sans narration) is also on YouTube; Colin Fox’s narrated interludes can, however, be accessed separately from the musical selections.
For Bernard Labadie, Le Chemin de Noël is the realization of a great dream inspired by the tradition of the annual Christmas concerts at the Chapel of King’s College in Cambridge, England. Named after the beloved annual concerts that Labadie has conducted in Québec with since 2016 with La Chapelle de Québec (Chapel of Québec, for which he serves as Musical Director), Le Chemin de Noël is the conductor’s deeply personal reflection on the meaning on Christmas. Created by Labadie in 1985, La Chapelle de Québec is one of North America’s premiere vocal ensembles. The group is made up exclusively of hand-picked professional singers from all over Canada. Drawing together carols from across Europe (and from across time, with composers ranging from Pachelbel [Von Himmel hoch da komm ich her] to Michael Praetorius [Es ist ein Ros’ entsprugen] to Ralph Vaughan Williams [Down in yon forest], from Schubert [Gott ist mein Hirt] to Britten [Songs from “Friday Afternoons,” Op. 7—A New Year Carol]). Bernard Labadie and La Chapelle de Québec curate an intimate, reflective journey through the Christmas story.
Les anges dans nos compagnes (Angels We Have Heard on High), La Chapelle de Québec Choir, with conductor Bernard Labadie, and Richard Paré on organ, from The Road to Christmas
Veni, veni, Emmanuel (O come, o come Emmanuel), La Chapelle de Québec Choir, with conductor Bernard Labadie, from The Road to Christmas
Inspired by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols presented each year in Cambridge, England, Bernard Labadie sought to present a similar experience in Québec, with The Road to Christmas presented at Québec City’s Palais Montcalm each year since 2016. This album is a studio recording of the concert as presented in 2019. Drawing on traditions from France, Germany and England, this musical, spiritual and poetic itinerary unfolds through traditional Nativity hymns that Labadie has carefully selected over the years. Among the familiar fare: a powerful rendering of “O Holy Night” by contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux and harpist Valérie Milot; a haunting Veni, veni, Emmanuel (“O come, o come Emmanuel”) by the full choir with the keening female voices setting the stage for the robust male voices; and a positively majestic outpouring of Les anges dans nos campagnes (“Angels We Have Heard on High”) with organist Richard Paré keying a soaring, triumphant—and breathtaking—arrangement amidst the meditative and reflective musical ruminations surrounding it.
‘You will teach me to dream like an angel’–Colin Fox reads the text ‘Children’s Sleep’ from The Road to Christmas
“The Road to Christmas is my ideal Christmas,” Labadie (who is also the founder of Violons du Roy) says. “It’s made up of music that is often simple, but presented with the greatest care, and texts that allow us to dive into the roots of the event. Everyone can find the Christmas of their dreams, whether through music, poetry, spirituality or a happy mixture of the three.”
Two digital versions of the album have been released, one in French, the other in English. The French version includes a reading by Yves Jacques from Ernest Myrand’s Noels anciens de la Nouvelle-France, the first historical study of a subject related to music in Canada.
Lully, Lulla, Lullay, Philip Stopford (composer), with soprano Sheila Deitrich and L La Chapelle de Québec Choir, with Bernard Labadie (conductor), from The Road to Christmas
Praetorius: Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, La Chapelle de Québec Choir, with Bernard Labadie (conductor), from The Road to Christmas
The English version is narrated by the esteemed Canadian character actor Colin Fox, whose warm, friendly tone contributes immeasurably to this project’s magic, being at one turn measured but awestruck (appropriately, when reading “The Mystery of the Night” and “The Adoration of the Magi”), at another light and even playful when addressing young people in texts such as “Children’s Sleep” and “Christmas Morning”—a range of talents he undoubtedly honed in roles such as Swiss chef Fritz Brenner in A&E’s A Nero Wolfe Mystery and in his voice portrayal of the Wizard in The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland. The striking seasonal cover art, rooted in Christmas tradition, features a painting by Quebec artist Patricia Bellerose.
‘See the bygone years leaning on the balconies of Heaven in old-fashioned dress…’–Colin Fax reads the text ‘The Mystery of the Night’ from The Road to Christmas
“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” So declared a transformed Ebenezer Scrooge after his night visitors had departed. To those dear readers who would embrace Scrooge’s apothegm, The Road to Christmas will light your way, all through the days–nay, years–ahead. –-Presto Music with additional content by David McGee