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Les Agrémens

Les Agrémens is a popular Belgian chamber orchestra largely devoted to works from the Baroque and Classical periods. Members perform on period instruments even when the score calls for such antiquated and largely forgotten instruments as the crumhorn. The ensemble typically consists of around 20 members, though the number can range from 10 or so for smaller-scale works, on up to 30 or more for the larger ones, such as Classical-era symphonies and choral works. Les Agrémens has often performed with the Namur Chamber Choir, which might be viewed as a sort of sibling-ensemble, since both were founded by, and serve under aegis of the Center for Choral Singing of the French-speaking Community of Belgium and both are based in Namur, Belgium. Les Agrémens has thus performed many choral works, particularly from the Baroque period (Handel's Messiah, J.S. Bach's Christmas Cantatas, Charpentier's Te Deum, H. 416, and Pachelbel's Christ lag in Todesbanden, to name just a handful). In addition, it has regularly performed much orchestral music from the Classical period, including symphonies of Haydn, Gossec, Mozart, J.C. Bach, and many others. Les Agrémens' recordings are available from Ricecar and Armide France. Founded in 1995, Les Agrémens was initially created to accompany the Namur Chamber Choir. While it still serves that purpose, it has taken on a separate musical life of its own, performing strictly instrumental concerts and appearing on non-vocal recordings. The ensemble's name derives from the music of Francois Couperin: the first book of Couperin's Pièces de clavecin contains a work entitled Les Agrémens (ornamentation) -- No. 19 of the Cinquieme Ordre. The first concerts by Les Agrémens were played under the baton of veteran Luxemburg-born conductor Pierre Cao in December 1995 and featured works by Handel. Those initial performances, including one broadcast over Belgian television, drew highly favorable reaction from both critics and public alike. By the turn of the century, Les Agrémens was drawing consistently positive notice across Europe. Guy Van Wass was appointed principal conductor in 2001 and soon made his first recording with the ensemble, an acclaimed Ricercar CD of three symphonies by Gossec and the B flat Clarinet Concerto by J.V. Stamitz. The ensemble has since grown in stature as critical plaudits accrue and demand for recordings grows. Among the ensemble's later recordings is a 2009 Ricecar CD containing Haydn's Symphonies No. 45 and No. 85 and the Symphony in D major by Joseph Martin Kraus.
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