Baroque Orchestra was founded in 1981. It is the only early music
orchestra performing on period instruments in Quebec. The clarity
and freshness of Arion’s interpretations have been remarked
upon since its first concerts; the delicacy of its readings of
well-chosen and varied works has never wavered. Constant attention
to detail has earned the orchestra, led by the enlightened artistic
vision of flutist Claire Guimond, a place among the most renowned
early music ensembles in North America and throughout the world.
Opens Its 2012 Season with Genius Violinist
Stefano Montanari performs with such passion and flamboyance that
elation fills your soul. With finesse and flare he brought joy
to every Baroque composition he performed (October 13th) inside
Bourgie Hall. So many times, this large space seemed to transform
into a divine spot of rapturous intimacy.
was outstanding in timing and expressiveness. Now in its 32nd
year, Arion showed off the brilliant unified talent of its 17
members -- performing with supreme polish and zeal in this concert.
program fittingly titled Hidden Treasures of Italy, featured the
violin concerto works of these lesser known but brilliant Baroque
composers: Lidari, Sirmen, Nardini, Razetti and Montanari (most
composing in the 18th century). Collectively, each composition
offered movements that sparkled with liveliness, softened slowly
into sweetness and dazzled prestissimo. Mr. Montanari’s
sensitivity to the music incorporated his entire body. He moved
at almost every nuance, even stomped his feet to mark strident
beginnings and accents. His grace, warmth and enviable command
of the violin shouted confidence. His performance freed baroque
music; he played it as the composers intended the music to be:
vigorous, exuberant, sensual and sorrowful. During the fast movements,
he made us want to get up and dance. In fact he seemed to dance
around the stage in his own little spot at various times. I loved
those boots that he put to good use to do some of that nimble
foot and leg work. Nothing compared to his bowing!
violin became an extension of his body. He spilled over with musicality.
No one was aware of technique; and that is how a performance should
be. But make no mistake, his virtuosity enables him to highlight
every little nuance, every trill, every diminuendo and crescendo.
His speed was exciting. Arion and this awesome musician connected
so closely and with such spirited playing that smiles often broke
out on everyone’s face as they were all performing. It was
a festive, remarkable concert that made me want to dig deep into
the lives of these composers, many whom have been overshadowed
by their mentors, Vivaldi and Corelli. It also made me want Arion
and Mr. Montanari play their encore over and over again -- a Chaconne
by Vivaldi. Such heartfelt playing was sublime beyond words.
Journey of Musical Joy Performed with Mastery
the beautiful Bourgie Hall the audience traveled back in time
as music from the 17th and 18th centuries focused on the lively
compositions performed in Spain and Italy. The spirited music
celebrated the festivities and pleasures of the people. This music
highlighted the pursuit of daytime and nocturnal entertainment
to stimulate imagination and levity in an often difficult political
climate. The program’s title, Commedia dell’art, captured
the liveliness and intricate musical compositions of these times.
Composers featured were Boccherine, Heinichen, Vivaldi and Pergolesi.
string ensemble seemed to grow as horns, oboes and flutes and
bassoon were added to various concertos during the evening. Indeed,
Arion created a rich musical tapestry, and the centrepiece of
the entire evening was the star Russian violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky.
His astounding dexterity and expressiveness were augmented with
his rapid-fire ascensions, turns, double stringing and pianissimos
performed on his centuries-old violin. No part of the instrument
lay dormant during this wondrous evening of musical elation. We
were even treated to string strumming, held in his hand like a
guitar. In fact, the other four players joined him, even the two
cellists (including the featured guest cellist – more to
come on that) during the first Boccerhini concerto, “la
Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid.”
virtuoso who vividly applied his remarkable technique and passion
to the Vivaldi concertos, Sinkovsky was replacing Elizabeth Wallfisch
who became ill. He did a remarkable job, despite some rushing,
making tempo a tad uneven. Still, his force and obvious genius
made his solos during the concertos so exciting.
to Sinkovsky’s vitality and flamboyance was the great and
subtle anchoring of the guest conductor of the ensemble, the world-renown
cellist Jaap ter Linden. A pioneer of early music, Linden has
virtually brought baroque music into every part of the world.
He was not only principal cellist of Musica Antigua Koln, but
has been the leading ensemble conductor for over a dozen world
class period orchestras from Japan to New York. His calm playing
displayed a confidence that needed no bravura. The Arion baroque
orchestra recently released a double CD of Bach’s Saint
John’s Passion which I am listening to as I am writing
this. It does not disappoint.
Most Stimulating at Zimmerman Coffee House Concert
we had been present to sip coffee at Leipzig’s legendary
Zimmerman Coffee House back in 1702 when the Collegium Musicum’s
musical talents may well have been the topic of conversation.
Founded by Philipp Telemann, this musical club of bright university
talented students (Telemann was studying law there) endured long
after the great Baroque composer left the city three years later,
but his group swelled to 40 members. In 1729, Bach became the
Collegium’s director and he remained with these students
until 1741 (with intermittent gaps).
can imagine these keen young musicians together with their beloved
maestro Bach sitting inside Gottfried Zimmerman’s café,
staying long after they performed there. Creating more buzz, bubbling
with enthusiasm, they would discuss their concert over multiple
cups of coffee that greatly heightened their banter and senses
though the music had stopped –- for a moment, anyway. In
fact, the Zimmerman Coffee House was the hub for the artistic
community rich and poor alike. Even Bach himself drew inspiration
there, pouring his own gifts into this remarkable place: his famous
‘Coffee Cantata BWV211’ attests to the musical zest
exciting ambiance was recreated at Arion’s stellar concert
program brought to life inside the Bourgie Hall. At the centre
of the ensemble was featured guest artist, the remarkable Rachel
Podger, a supremely engaging violinist of international acclaim.
Having toured Europe and the USA, Ms. Podger holds a series of
illustrious positions along with several prestigious awards for
her Bach recordings. She presently teaches at The Royal Welsh
College of Music and Drama, holding the Jane Hodge Foundation
International Chair in Baroque Violin, and is Visiting Professor
of Baroque Violin and Fellow of the Guildhall School of Music
and Drama -- to mention only a few of her professional European
posts. Her new ensemble, Brecon Baroque along with the newly created
Michaela Comberti Chair for Baroque Violin at the Royal Academy
of Music in London, amply demonstrates the dynamic energy of this
music performed during this concert has been called table music;
when played in the early eighteenth, it was composed with a specific
purpose -- to conjure up images of a gathering of friend sampling
the pastries and coffees inside a coffee house, or it could involve
guests enjoying a lovely meal at a host’s house. Then again,
the image of offerings presented at a banquet appeared in the
mind upon listening to the ornate beauty of certain pieces.
music we were treated to during this rich concert vividly displayed
the prodigious vitality of Ms. Podger who so engagingly led the
13 other Arion musicians, all of whom but two were women. This
feminine flavouring evoked the setting at Zimmerman’s once
again, as it was one of the few places which allowed women entry
and access to a table. During the concert, Arion’s musicians
performed standing up except the harpsichordist and two cellists.
No matter what they played, pristine beauty to the ear and eye
greeted us during each of the four selections.
composers featured two works by Telemann and two by Bach. The
first piece by Telemann (Concerto in A Major, TWV53:A2) transported
us to an outdoor grand picnic -- at least in my mind. The Baroque
flute together with the violin (Rachel Podger) answered each other,
and then joined each other in perfect phrasing, creating delicious
spritely harmonies. At times the flute part -- effortlessly played
by Arion’s own artistic director, Claire Guimond, conjured
up a bird flittering and twittering around the violin which responded
in kind. The trio was completed with cellist Kate Haynes, who
was seated between them, playing lower melody lines that balanced
out the fun. Let’s not forget, this was a concerto: the
rest of the strings provided appropriate fullness when the trio
took moments of respite. I felt I was sitting in a lush expansive
meadow under tall trees of stunning foliage, enjoying my edible
feast in the company of little colourful birds who perhaps wanted
to steal some of my goodies. There was such playfulness in this
final Allegro movement; as lively as it was equally tender was
the Gratioso (third movement). Likewise, the third selection --
in another concerto (F Major TWV:53:F1) by Telemann featured a
supremely sparkling composition for three violins. Each phrase
was entered with punch in precision timing. Could it get any better
than this? The two Bach concertos were outstanding. I particularly
favoured the famous E Major Concerto (BWV 1042). The gentleness
of the Adagio (second movement) contrasted to the magnificent
and final Allegro Assai that left no room for anyone to ingest
too much of a good thing.
the four compositions for the evening left one feeling completely
fulfilled; all was right with the world. The only thing missing
was the opportunity to have a coffee at Zimmerman’s, though
coffee along with little cookies (compliments from another café)
were freely served during intermission. What a savoury concert!
Delivers Diva Passion in Handel Arias
Gauvin performed eleven moving arias from several of Handel's
operas in the final concert of Arion's season of outstanding Baroque
music. This particular concert featured the female
as formidable heroine (Zenobia) and long suffering victim (Alcina).
Love has been lost -- replaced by the solitude of ageing and angst.
The drama of betrayal, losing your lover and your looks shone
most brilliantly when Gauvin assumed the role of Alcina, a strong
woman abandoned by her lover, Ruggiero. We were treated to three
excerpts from that opera which garnered great applause.
energy, dramatic power, rich voice and virtuoso mastery of perfect
pitch encompass a wide range of soprano demands; her polished
accomplishments of range, richness and raw emotion seem to defy
the impossible. What amazes us about her is her dedication to
character development as an emotive challenge regardless of the
fact she is always singing alone -- not a prop, person or costume
to aid her. Although there was no other singer with her, the pristine
backing of Arion's fine ensemble of masterful musicians obviously
contributed to her vocal warmth, musicality and desire to throw
herself into each character she portrayed. Indeed, one must point
out the impeccable direction of Alexander Weimann whose harpsichord
playing matched the rapidity of Gauvin's lengthy vocal runs. This
harmonious pairing of quartet and opera singer was pure joy. He
magically steered the orchestra and Gauvin into feats of excellence.
interesting to note that Handel had found his vocal muse in Maria
Strada del Po whom he recruited to sing a debut London performance
of his new opera, Lotario. Interestingly, about this December
concert (1729), Handel's neighbour and admirer, a certain Mrs.
Pendarves commented: "Strada's voice is without exception fine,
her manner perfection, but her person is very bad and she makes
frightful mouths." One can only say about Karina Gauvin that every
postion she made with her mouth regardless of appearance brought
forth the sounds of immeasurable greatness. One must conclude
that the angst, anguish, and anger of Handel's women resonate
into the present day. This great composer coupled with Gauvin
was definitely on the side of the firey female. But her fate may
mean facing life alone.