The small chamber ensemble Les Violons Du Roy with Marc-André Hamelin at the piano played an inspiring and brilliant program of Rameau, Haydn, and Mozart dazzling the audience with their flawless unified sound and vitality.
The Friends of Chamber Music presented the Québec City-based ensemble Les Violons Du Roy. The assistant director Mathieu Lussier conducted the ensemble of fifteen on Friday in place of the usual conductor Bernard Labadie. The energetic first half included a Suite from Rameau’s opera Les Boréadesand Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony. Pianist Marc-André Hamelin joined the ensemble for the second half with an intriguing and breathtaking performance of Mozart’s Concert Rondo in A Major and Haydn’s Concerto in D Major for Piano and Orchestra.
Les Boréades translates to “The Descendants of Boréas” who is the god of the North Wind. This opera was Rameau’s lasttragédie en musique and Les Violons Du Roy drew from numerous dance numbers in the score including Menuets, Rigaudons, Gavottes, and Contredanses. For this piece, the ensemble used copies of Baroque bows but played on modern instruments, which made for a richer and deeper sound. The ensemble was one of the most unified chamber groups I have ever heard. The balance between the instruments was exquisite as well as their tuning. The players flowed so well together as they consistently kept the music moving forward, even in the slow movements. They gave special attention to the suspensions and harmonic tensions throughout the piece. Each section was so precise and accurate and each exhibited phenomenal tuning. The last movement was made the most exciting from their exuberant energy. The music almost conducted itself.
Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 lives up to its name, “Farewell.” At the end of the last movement, Haydn wrote in the score for the musicians to leave the stage one by one with only two violins left playing the music. He did this to make a point to Prince Nikolaus Eszterházy who was extending his stay at the summer palace, that the musicians wanted to return to their families in Vienna. Needless to say, the Prince got the hint. The contrasts between loud-soft dynamics were exceptional as was the intense beginning movement. The horns fracked a few times toward the end of the movement. The Adagio had a completely different character. This movement can get tedious and monotonous with the continuous chromatic suspensions; it was probably the weakest movement of the whole concert, but toward the end it was quietly beautiful as the ensemble achieved a soft sustaining sound. The Menuetto was graceful and had a peculiar ending as it concludes in the middle of a phrase for the violins. The Finale returned to a lively tempo and energy until the last two violins walked off stage while still playing the music.
The Mozart Concerto Rondo in A Major is a one-movement concerto; Laurie Shulman comments in the program notes that the work is a free-standing, independent concerted work for piano and orchestra, analogous to a concerto finale. Hamelin achieved an incredible and sensuous sound at the piano along with his clear and articulate touch. He took time and dwelled on certain notes in the beginning theme and played with such ease. The passagework was accurate and flowing and his phrasing was phenomenal. His playing reminded me of warm sunlight beams because of his fresh ideas and interpretation. Hamelin’s physique was quiet as he focused on his sound and the music.
The orchestra gave a wonderful introduction in Haydn’s Concerto in D major as the piano came in with exuberant energy, launching itself into the music. Hamelin showcased his immaculate pacing with the music of the Adagio. In the middle G major section, he went into another sound world before the cadenza. His playing got so quiet, nothing was rushed and his musical expressiveness shined above everything else. The Rondo begins as the Adagio ends, the character of the music flipped back to lively. Technically Hamelin was flawless and his mastery and facility at the piano was revealed in this piece, which was enjoyable to experience.
For an encore, Hamelin played Schubert’s A-flat Major Impromptu. Further showcasing his musical abilities and amazing legato playing, he played the theme more intimate and delicate each time it returned in the music.