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music reviews by

Nancy Snipper


Arion 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 in 29 years. 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.





“Water and Fireworks” Concert Rises in a Tsunami of Excitement

This review is not a case of Arion saving the best for last, but the music certainly suggested just that: a dazzling display of 26 musicians took to the stage in the program’s final celebrational work that featured Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks HWV 351 Overture. Horns galore richly resonated with the joy of this nine-segment work, composed to exuberantly express emotional jubilee over this momentous event – the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. As British harpsichordist, Steven Devine conducted while playing his instrument, the audience marveled at the immaculate timing between him and Arion’s brilliant musicians. Energy and precision was palpably exciting, and Mr. Devine’s hold both over the orchestra and us became instant during in the second work performed on the program: Arne’s Concerto for Harpsichord No. 5 in G minor. Glorious sounds came from his harpsichord with his virtuoso playing. He turned the instrument’s sounds into expressive contrasting moods, even employing the Steven Devineoccasional ritardo – an effect that hinted at the romantic. The miracle of his playing is his ability to get the instrument to emote feeling; the melodies were intricately beautiful and intricate. It was the first time I actually felt hypnotic pleasure and excitement from the instrument.

Backtracking to the opening work – Handel’s The Occasional Oratorio, HWV 62 – hastily composed in early 1745, this 4-piece movement puts on a splendid display of royal pomp that surprisingly turns plaintive with the lovely moving oboe solo in the Adagio (third movement). It contrasts in temperament and tone as the three kettle drums and three trumpets in the Grave of the first movement blaze in full glory.

Telemann’s Overture in C majorHamburger Ebb’ und Fluth”TWV 55 : C3 offered a fabulous array of various instruments whose sweet sounds and tempestuous ones constituted scenic images filled with a cast of gods and deities from ancient mythology. The work was composed to celebrate the centenary of Hamburg’s Admiralty on April 6, 1732. Gentle and tumultuous waves seem to overwhelm in the opening overture as charm, humour and levity harmoniously enhance the nine short movements that follow this overture -– a spirited work bolstered by horns, oboes and more musical splendor as vast as the sea itself.

Photo #1 ©Jean Guimond


Sunday, April 10th, Bourgie Hall

It was appropriate Sunday’s concert – the second last one to close Arion’s 35th anniversary season – put one of the ensemble’s favourite director/violinist’s onto the stage whose concert title honoured both his Italian genius and his name. It was called Concerti Alla Montanari. Clearly the orchestra adores him, and how can you not? He is passionate, playful, dynamic and moves about and stomps his feet when the music calls for such accents.

Mr. Montanari’s sensuality and complete emotional connection to every phrase, expression and intent in each line was exceptionally inspiring – as heard in his performance of Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen’s Concerto for Violin in A major Opus 3, No 3. He used every note and phrasal melody to make a musical statement that delighted our emotions. He woke us up and he did it magically. He seems to play effortlessly – as if the composer and he are one and the same person. He 'spoke' to us the moment his bow hit the strings. The performance of this piece was rich and unforgettable.

The guest cellist, Kate Bennett Wadsworth from Britain did not possess the same charisma nor power that her leader, Mr. Montanari, had (he was conducting her and the orchestra in Luigi Boccherini’s Concerto for Cello No 10 in D major, G 483 – at times holding his violin to play). The beginning was untidy and the tuning and timing seemed out. As well, I found the punch, authority and ending of phrases to be either rushed or discounted. Still, Ms. Wadsworth showed some stunning moments, particularly the part where she created a shivering string effect with her bow moving super fast, and her notes in the high reach were wonderful as well. She has great control. I would have liked to have heard the cello played louder or even miked. The robustness I heard in the final Boccherini – Symphony Opus 12, No. 1 in D major, G 503 was obvious.

An encore brought us another Italian composer who Mr. Montanari called crazy and fun.

It was a good match.

Arion’s closing “Royal Fireworks” concert takes place on May 13, 14, 15, and will feature the British conductor and harpsichordist Steven Devine for the first time. Visit or call (514) 355-1825.






Once again another Croque salon concert took place inside the beautiful Gallery Gora, which aside from the yummy sit-at-your-seat lunch, this noon-time event offered a musical serving of Christmas spirit 18th-century style via the baroque composer Michel Corrette. On the program plate were his assortment of Noël symphonies written in the two major and minor keys of D and A. Corrette lived for 88 years, and during that time, created an impressive repertoire for many different string instruments. Five of Arion’s superb artists contributed to the joyous music: violinists Chantal Rémillard and Tanya Lapiérre, on her baroque instrument, violist Jacque-André Houle, cellist, Amanda Keesmaat and harpsichordist Melisande McNabney.

We were treated to five different symphonies – each comprising movements – from three to as many as nine. Each one was titled around a Christmas theme. Adding flare to the already exuberantly joyous music was the fact that each musician was also in charge of announcing the titles of one of the symphonies. Given thee were five artists and five symphonies – a serendipitous match.

Correte’s music is a perfect fit for Arion’s seasoned strings musicians. Each piece came to life as the performers set their bows to strings with gusto, with the harpsichord happily trilling away. The result was glorious bursts of harmonic joy and humour. Andantes, Largos, Allegros and Adagios, Moderatos and more created exciting tempi contrast; melodies conveyed in a light hearted manner the glory of Christmas. No heavy-handed stringing here. It was wonderful to hear Christmas celebrated with such brilliance and originality.

Crisp and impeccable timing characterized the attack and a pleasing panache of colour, instrumental texture and sublime sounds enchanted our hearts as each performer pulled off each short movement with energetic dash.

Some pieces gave us flavours of Switzerland, America, Germany and Poland. “Noël polonaise” presented the sounds of peasant stomping as the viola set the anchoring repetition of the same note. Brisk-paced beauty and charm spun us all around the table sparkling with its sterling musical fare.

Arion’s next Croque-Baroque concert takes place on January 29th at Galerie Gora from 12 pm to1 pm. Titled, “Strudel or Turnovers? Mozart and Devienne, this promises to wet your senses an disarmingly sweet fashion. Go to for your tickets.



The celestial voices of Johanna Winkel, Johannette Zomer--– both sopranos -- alto James Laing, tenor Zachary Wilder and bass baritone, Matthew Brook filled the glorious space of Notre Dame Basilica last night. This was Arion’s Christmas concert – the first time they have performed in the illustrious basilica; this sold-out concert was integrated into the Bach Festival – the last one in the series for this year.

How do you describe divine beauty? Indeed, the inspirational collaboration between the above-mentioned vocal angels ( (heralding from the USA, Germany and The Netherlands) with Arion accompanying them, was akin to being lifted up to God’s realm where rejoicing over Jesus and all the goodness the Holy son has given Mankind is the supreme gift for Christmas and every day after.

Magnifcat’s eleven joyous verses came to life via heavenly vocal vibrancy, restraint and the elegant emotion of these sterling artists. So gifted, and at one were they with the music, when the three male singers introduced an exciting flurry of glorious harmonies, I thought to myself: they sounds like cherubic angels sent down to earth to tell us some wonderful news. Then I looked at the words of this verse 3, and indeed the libretto says: “From Heaven above to earth I come to bear good news to every home: Glad tidings of great joy I bring. Whereof I now will say and sing.”

At the end of Magnificat, I was so moved by what I had just witnessed, I wanted to kidnap all the artists, take them home and force them to never stop singing or playing. I felt in awe and envious of Bach’s absolute belief in his religion. Moreover, looking up into the vaulted gold and lapiz blue colours and stunning carvings of saints residing in heaven, I was ready to embrace Catholicism right on the spot.

Of course, Magnificat was the feature highlight on the program, but not the only work to melt our hearts. Johann Kuhnau’s reverent and rejoicing Wie Schön leuchtet de Morgenstern (How Lovely Shines the Morning Star) for five voices, 2 horns, strings and bass continuo oozed contrasting flavours. Five verses of choral glory celebrate the Son of God. We were spellbound.

The opening regal overture of Telemann’s Overture for 2 oboes, bassoon, string and bass continuo TWV55: G5 soon scurried into a kind of French style presto with the second number – Augures – and there was also another happy movement called “Joy.” Over ten contrasting segments brought delightful tempi variety and depth into this 18th-century composition. Arion’s impeccable timing and complete understanding of this work meticulously captured every expressive nuance.

The three composers of the evening whose collective genius galvanized the musical world nearly 450 years ago still resonate within our hearts.

In fact, nothing today can match the prolific output and brilliance of these musical giants They too are gifts from God. With the Arion Baroque Orchestra, their imitable magical imprint will continue to endure.



There seems to be no Baroque composer Arion can’t perform. With dash, panache and impeccable timing, last night’s concert proved that the orchestra possesses a perfectly lustrous lean for Vivaldi – the master of this sterling period of music.

Two internationally renowned guests for the evening added further excitement to the ensemble of world-class talent: Enrico Onofri and mezzo-soprano, Mireille Lebel. Mr. Onofri's conducting and violin performance brimmed with delicious scurrying, textural flavours and ever-so quiet moments that were stunningly synchronized with Arion’s string players and harpsichord.

Ms.Label’s performance showcased her remarkable range that never faltered in richness or pitch. So extravagantly beautiful is her voice: when she reappeared to offer an encore, she performed once again the Alleluia – the final part in Sum in medio tempestatum, RV 632, Vivaldi’s Motet for strings & basso continuo for mezzo-soprano.

She had many 'aha' moments, as heard on the single syllable of a ‘he’ sound that she sung, traveling non-stop up and down her brilliant vocal register with dazzling coloratura. It was breathlessly beautiful; in fact, she never seemed to take a breath as she masterfully ascended and descended with mezzo magic.

Another magnetic force happened when Claire Guimond – the orchestra’s founder/artistic director -- took the stage. Ms. Guimond delivered Il Guarellino RV 428, from Concerto in D major for flute strings and basso continuo. But for this work she played the baroque flute. The twittering sound she produced from her instrument in mimicking the goldfinch was astounding.

Vivaldi’s compositions constitute a never-ending harmonic ride of rhythms, melodies and tempi – all brilliantly enlivened by Arion in last night’s program.



This afternoon concert held within the lovely white walls of Gora Gallery was a perfect blend of salon music resonating a totally scintillating ambience. We were served lovely box gourmet lunches and as some concert-goers sat at the high table in back of the white seats, we all had the feeling we were in for an all-round feast treat.

Ah! Telemann. Two fantastic concertos constituted the first two works on the program, and nothing could delight the ear more than hearing the stunning alto recorder playing of Alexa Raine-Wright as she soared in the first piece with a member of Arion (in sparse number) setting a lush string harmonic background. She has such agility and breath control and feeling – a rare trio of talents needed to make Telemann’s music soar liked a winged angel before us.

The first work, Overture in A major offered many different movements, and each one showcased the giddy twittering harmonic beauty his music – carried as the rich depth of recorder and strings merged into a radiant series of uplifting melodies of varying rhythmic velocity. Likewise, the second Telemann – Concerto E minor for recorder and flute -- brought to the stage Arion’s supreme and humble star, baroque flutist Claire Guimond as she and Ms. Raine-Wright (on recorder) beautifully delivered the staggering range of emotional beauty inherent in this piece. This was a case of teacher and former student performing together with joy. The Allegro was unforgettable as was the final Presto with its peasant-like melody whose rhythm embraced exciting acceleration that put us all on a baroque roller coaster ride. Playful and robust, this final Presto was really fun, and the musicians were clearly enjoying it all, too.

The Bach extract from Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major was solidly performed with Mme Guimond on the flute, but in all honesty, somewhat anti-climatic to the unparalleled music of Telemann the program featured. Of course, Hank Knox on the harpsichord anchored it all with effortless mastery.

Despite the odd squeak, and a baby crying in the arms of her arm (she eventually left), this afternoon Croque-Baroque affair started off the season’s series of noon concerts with spice, flavour and flare. Impeccable timing, nuances bolstered by spritely, majestic and plaintive moods proved that from largos to allegros to minuets and prestos, Arion can do it all. Small in size for this intimate concert, this internationally acclaimed orchestra showed us that size has nothing to do with making absolutely superb music composed by geniuses of enormous brilliance.


2014 - 2015



Arion did it again. Always surprises within the beautiful program this outstanding baroque orchestra offers. On Sunday, May 17th inside Bourgie Hall, listeners were given a treat of inspiring music – François Couperin’s La Françoise and Andre Campra’s Messe de requiem. This celestial work of choral music featured the professional singers of La Chapelle de Québec. This beautiful choir was directed by award-winning conductor/harpsichordist, Christophe Rousset. He has garnered the most prestigious recognition: Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, Commander in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and more.

Featured soloists, baritone David Roth was stunning in delivering “Kyrie” segment of the work, and was joined by tenor, Philippe Gagné. Their voices shine.

The entire Messe was so uplifting and sublime; the religious theme of the music was passionately conveyed.

It was preceded by the orchestra’s La Francoise which despite some tuning problems, and a few out-of-synch moments, I have to say all was forgotten when Claire Guimond and Alexa Raine Wright had their glorious moment with their baroque flutes in a small solo solo section; it was perfect. The entire work seemed to have the melody of beauty and lightness swirling in and out of each phrase. It was really lovely.

So much to savour in the concert. The joyous feelings that the French dance suite of “ La Franéoise” invokes is rare, but always assured when Arion is holding its baroque instruments as their bows transports us into the beauty of both these 17th-century compositions.



On November 29th, inside Bourgie Hall, the audience had the joyous opportunity to listen to chamber music sonatas composed by Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. This concert was part of Montreal’s Bach Festival that runs until December 7th. On this cold evening, the music warmed our spirits. Four of Arion’s world-class musicians played in duo, trio and in a group formation of four - depending on the specific sonata piece being performed. Playing their baroque period instruments with beauty and ebullience were: Hank Knox on harpsichord, Chantal Rémillard, first violinist, Amanda Keesmaat on cello and Arion’s founder and artistic director, flutist Claire Guimond.

It was an intimate setting that fittingly featured refined music which held so many wondrous moments of harmonies, lightness and technical bravura. One could imagine the musicians dressed in 18th-century courtly garb playing in front of Frederick the Great with his noble coterie standing nearby. We were transported into a sumptuous environment where lovely compositions captured both the capricious liveliness and serious tenor of the times.

Each performer graced the sonatas with delicacy and robust relish as the melodies twisted, turned and trilled into regal eloquence. Most miraculous -- aside from each musician’s incomparable technique -- was the fact that each of these ladies had their backs turned to Mr. Knox -- the musical 'anchor,' for those works involving the harpsichord. Yet the timing was always impeccable. I was astounded when on the very first note, they started their allegros with spot-on synchronization -– this was very laudable in one piece in particular where Mr. Knox and Ms.Guimond could not see one another facs to face. (I am referring to the allegro in the Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord in D-major. In fact, throughout the entire concert, the rhythms and expressive volumes were masterfully interpreted and always with sublime sonority punctuating the measured timing. Intricately delicious phrasing and a variety of flavours and moods kept the audience interest.

Andantes never took second fiddle to the more exciting allegros. In fact, the Sonata in D-major, the second piece in the program, featured a spirited merry romp where speed and musicality combined such sweetness. This created a riveting contrast to the preceding opening movement, a poco adagio, that was plaintive and mournfully moving.

The concert’s first sonata, Württemberg Sonata No.1 in A-major was on solo harpsichord. Here, Mr. Knox proved the harpsichord can indeed be expressive. He truly was able to get the rather monotone manner of the instrument to emote –- not just by embracing the delicacy of the instrument but also by exerting superb musicality and clarity that enabled those trills and marked rhythmic passages to convey vigour and seemingly spontaneous whims.

Ms. Guimond was stunning on her flute. Her sostenutos demanded an astounding breathing technique, without which she would never have been able to pull off the long crescendos or dainty diminuendos holding long whole notes. Likewise, Ms. Keesmaat’s playing added poignant depth to many multi-faceted passages in the Sonata in C-major. As always, Ms. Rémillard harmoniously achieved bowing that blended into the mellifluous mix. The stamina of these musicians warrants comparison to long distance runners. The evening offered stunning artistry; C.P.E. Bach surely was applauding along with the audience at the concert’s end. No matter that he’s been long gone for 226 years, he made his presence felt during this inspiring concert.



On November , 14th, 15th and 16th (I attended the last one), Arion presented three rich concertos by George Philipp Telemann. He wrote 125 of them. Each offered spritely rhythms, sweet adagios and prestos to wake up anyone suffering from November’s numbing effect.

Claire Guimond on baroque flute was somewhat trepidatious in her delivery for the first work in D major that saw a thin, spared down orchestra render the music’s four movements. The effect seemed to convey a tired tone. The second piece was composed in the happy key of G major which featured Arion’s own Jean-Louis Blouin on viola. It was not an inspiring performance, but an able one that yearned for more musicality. Another work by the 17th-century composer (he worked well into the 18th-century), ended the program prior to intermission. This noble concerto featured many interesting melody lines and showed of the alacrity of Arion during the final movement – a presto with punch.

Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) who wrote 281 concertos was another multi-instrumental performer as was Telemann. Once a teacher of the flute, the favourite instrument of King Frederic the Great of Prussia and his court composer, this well-traveled composer created a stunning Grave ma con affetto of mournful beauty in the second movement in the Flute Concerto in D Minor that opened the program after the intermission. Once again, Ms. Guimond took up her baroque flute to play with great feeling. The music offered a range of contained emotion and rhythms. Quantz was influenced by the immutable French and Italian structures and flavours that took the world into a glorious mood during the Baroque period. We felt uplifted. The last piece was truly the piece de la resistance. It featured two baroque flutists, Ms. Guimond and Alexa Raine-Wright. Like butterflies fluttering around one another and amongst colourful flowers, their impeccable simultaneous playing was stunning. Their musical timing and expression was masterful. Alexander Weimann on harpsichord was the invited conductor and he did a fine energetic job. The two composers were rebels as they did not follow the profession their parents wanted them to. Instead, they followed their hearts and their true calling. These geniuses have given us kingly music that Arion interprets using both a cerebral and emotional approach.



Never before have I witnessed an ensemble produce such a remarkable and unified sound, such impeccable phrasing, such unparalleled expression of stunning sonority, phrasing and brilliant beat punctuations as I did in Bourgie Hall during Arion’s kick-off 2014/15 concert titled “Coucou!” The magical connection the orchestra had with Arion’s guest violinist/conductor, Enrico Onofri, created Baroque bliss for everyone -- musicians and seated listeners alike. Mr. Onofri was surely born with Baroque music in his brain, for he captures the true spirit of this period’s lively compositions in a manner that marks him as an interpretive genius. His beautiful performance was exciting, taut and restrained; his love of Arion was obvious.

Without a doubt, this October 19th performance will go down in the annals of musical history as creating a 'Handel high.' The concert featured iconic musical masters who settled in London and composed in the Italian Baroque style in the 18th century. London was lapping up the genre, and Handel delivered it in spades, as did many others -- Avison, Vivaldi and Corelli. Selections of their work went to the string bow of Mr Onofri and Arion together to perform the exceptional program. The variety of distinct flavours marked in the compositions as well as the pace and tone of movements, some of which included -- largo, allegro, presto and adagio -- attests to the virtuosity and versatility in the playing. Magisterial moments, sorrowful string sounds and joyous romps -- all were delivered to perfection with warmth and vigor.

The first part of the concert brought to light three of Handel’s light, lively and lushly sonorous concerti: the opening one being the Concerto Grosso in ‘D Major; the second which introduced the clever harmonies and imitative single notes of a cuckoo and nightingale with the small organ played by Hank Knox; and the third and the final of the three, Charles Avison’s layered and mystical composition in D minor that offered daring passion and interesting melody lines. I loved the last note in the first Allegro -- fast, short and unexpectedly positioned on a rising phrase line.

Speaking of which, the brilliance of all the allegro movements stunned me in each of the pieces. I was mesmerized by what Mr. Onofri and Arion achieved. I shan’t go into the details of all pieces, but think of this: thrilling turns on the violin, swishing sounds of leaves (for this autumn concert), frolicking, birds, merriment and intricate moods -- this is the rich emotion given to us all during this unforgettable concert that hopefully was recorded so I can purchase the CD. “Please come back once more Mr Onofri; I remember you from last season too, but one can never get enough of you, especially when Arion is your playing partner."

Next concert, titled “Rebelle Baroques” is November 14-16th. For more information, consult the website at:


2013 - 2014


What a joy to hear: the great Baroque masters of concerti for oboes, flutes, bassoons and of course those strings. The program featured Vivaldi, Albinoni, Marcello, Galupi, Verucini and Platti. Every note seemed to float above the canals of Venice. I felt as if I were being transported to another era where purity and brilliance reigned supreme.

ALFREDO BERNARDINIWhen Mr. Bernardini took the solo for Albinoni’s D-Minor Concerto, opus 9, No. 2, I heard such beauty that the notes did indeed seem to come from heaven. The second movement -- Larghetto -- opened with a sustained note that seemed like a plea from a saint. His incredible expressiveness, clarity and effortless execution moved us all. Of course, the music is so utterly divine that his performance just made it all the more transcendental. He often conducted within the orchestra ranks while playing as well. Every piece was pricelessly performed.

One must also mention the two Baroque flutists -- Claire Guimond and Alexa Raine-Wright in their solo playing in the Galuppi Concerto in E Minor. They seemed like birds fluttering around one another in sublime harmony. The entire concert gave me the feeling of standing inside Venetian paradise whose winds (instruments and weather both) were blowing a refreshing Baroque breeze right into Bourgie Hal -- cocooning us all in rapturous sonic glory. Pieces of celebration sporting nobility and liveliness greatly showed off the technical skill of Arion’s musicians. Timing between soloist and strings was impeccable.

It was a delicious evening of Italian flavours, prepared by the best in Baroque music: composer and musician alike. (I attended this concert on Friday, November 15th)



This was surely the most mesmerizing baroque music performance to be given by the wondrous Arion Baroque Orchestra! Titled Venezia, mi amore, the concert swept us away to Italy circa 1590. There we were mingling amidst music created by masters that world has not seen since then – only heard. We were completely inspired by the stunning compositions of these baroque geniuses: Gabrieli, Castello, Galippi and Vivaldi. It was an unsurpassable surprise to hear the music of these less frequently preformed composers: Castello, Gabrieli and Galuppi.

The opening Sonata decimaseta á 4 by Castello quite brought tears to my eyes: so sublime was the music and the impeccable way it was performed. The featured violinist, baroque genius, Enrico OnofriEnrico Onofri was right in his element. He is from Italy and perhaps one of the world’s greatest performance virtuosos of the genre; so when he appeared on stage to connect with Arion’s awesome ensemble, magic happened.

From the very opening notes, the fluid beautiful contrapuntal melody begun on Mr. Onofri’s lead violin, then reiterated by other strings both separately and in unison opened up new musical territory that magnificently and most brilliantly startled our ears and engaged our heart. We were yearning to hear more and more and more. The phrasing and expressiveness were incredible. The variety of textured sounds was something I had never heard before. The second part of this Castello piece was robust and lively, almost exultant in its gig timing. A thrilling cell of ornamentation concluded the work.

Gabrielli’s Sonata XX1 for 3 violins and basse continue was solemn; the heart of the piece was righteously delivered and the cleverly accentuating notes at just the right places created notable phrasing clarity.

Another Gabrielli piece followed: Canzon duodecimi with 8 voices in 2 choir. There was no singing, but the lively sprightliness of the instruments, particularly in the last movement, was so refreshing and rich, one could hear the various harmonies as if they were voices. It spilled over in such lush glory, one wondered if God himself and not Mr. Onofri were running the show.

Likewise, the singing quality heightened by a most appealing melody was apparent in Galuppi’s Concerto for four strings in B major.

Each piece was so energetically communicated as the musicality imbued every hushed and forte phrase. Mr. Onofri totally engaged his fellow players. Indeed the two Vivaldi pieces illustrated such an illustrious quality of playing. The last piece, Concerto for violin, strings and continue bass, was an obvious showcase for the featured guest; his solo segment was on par with Paganini – his rapid fire bowing took away our breath - yet when playing with the orchestra, the arsenal of technique continued, yet it did not take over the intended musical excitement. This performance exemplified the fun and gaiety that all were experiencing together through the music.

When Claire Guimond, Artistic director of Arion, appeared to perform Vivaldi’s flute concerto Op. 10, No. 3, she was completely brilliant. One could see birds fluttering and butterflies flitting through her stunning playing. Surely, this was the intention of Vivladi. The second adagio-like movement was so sublime, Ms. Guimond was completely inside the music. We forgot we were watching a human being; we were at one with the music.

It is rare to have such an experience, and quite frankly, such epiphanies occurred several times throughout the entire concert. Two encores brought Vivaldi to our ears again. The one snag in the entire evening was that it came to an end; and then Arion and Mr. Onofri left Bourgie Hall’s graceful stage. I think everyone, including these superlative musicians, wanted it to continue forever. But such magic is hard to repeat.


2012 - 2013


You can’t go wrong with an all-Haydn and Mozart program. Arion not only set a synchronized, spritely step for these great composers, but their invited soloist, David Breitman, allowed us to hear how the piano part of the music was originally intended by performing on a pianoforte. His Mozart Concerto in E-flat major, K.449 was utterly delicious, and one must applaud this Montreal native who now teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio for his expressive and technically exquisite application of the instrument. The pianoforte with its limited action does not lend itself to crescendos and diminuendos, but Mr. Breitman somehow accomplished a heartfelt performance, cleverly adding ritardos as he ascended several of Mozart’s scalar phrases. Their finality always ended in thrilling but effortless trills. He wore a dashing red shirt that added to all the excitement. He changed into a dark suit for the final piece by Hayden. It fittingly suited the symphonic title which contained the word, ‘soir.’ I am referring to Symphony No. 8, in G major, “le Soir” which was beautifully played. He sat at the small pianoforte joining the full orchestra, and though it was hard to hear the notes on this instrument, the full ensemble effect was grand, save for when the double bass, flute and horn had solo moments that seemed shaky and weak. I could even hear some wrong notes, but all in all, it was still wonderful to hear.

Arion’s opening piece introduced Haydn by performing Symphony No. 49 in F major. The Adagio was full of sinuous surprises that held our attention. It was followed by a wonderful Allegreto di molto whose main theme leaps in all directions over all instruments with speed and excitement. Melancholy sets in with the Menuetto e Trio, but the subsequent presto changes all that.

Mozart wrote his vibrant Symphony in G major at the age of 16. Its bright spirit and pleasing melodies which follow the typical three-movement Italian sinfonia offer a rousing finale that features the French horn. This work and the light manner in which Arion performed it showcased Mozart’s youth and inventiveness.

I left feeling honoured to have sat with a great orchestra performing two of the world’s greatest composers. The concert, called “Passion grandeur Nature” did not fall short of this title which holds the promise of great things to come.

Johannette Zomer Sings Sadness Beautifully in ‘From Melancholy to Bliss’ Concert

Boccherini’s Stabat Mater (11 songs) and Antonio Vivaldi’s Laudote puer Dominum, psaume 112 (10 songs) reached godliness through the divine voice of Dutch soprano, Johannette Zomer. Her Johannette Zomertonal purity expressed, with profound introspection and majesty, the Virgin Mary’s terrible grief over the death of her holy son in Stabat Mater. Ms. Zomer was so connected to the woeful pain within the each song, it precluded the dramatizing of emotion; she simply relied on authentic inner sadness in lyric and music to convey the music and message. Contemplative, assured and so balanced in all measure of music and melody, she was saintly in all manner of expression.

Ms. Zomer is beautiful to behold and to listen to. How rare it is to find a soprano who does not ‘upstage’ the song with over wrought facial expressions and posing. She pulled us all in by her simplicity of magnificent understating. Standing in quiet confidence, as soon as she began to sing, it became clear that she possesses a remarkable range whose clarity both stunned and inspired us all. Her upper notes were as beautiful as her lower ones, as heard in ‘Virgo viginum’ and ‘Fac ut portem.’ Likewise, in Vivalid’s ‘Sit nomen Domini,’ she sang with perfection. We were deeply moved. In fact, never once during any song was I aware of the demanding technique needed to accomplish the lovely, yet intricate phrasing and sostenutos in these baroque-period songs.

Ms Zomer seemed to be a visiting angel who through her voice blessed us all. Neither shrill, sentimental or syrupy, her exquisite songbird pitch was solid yet sophisticated, solemn yet blissful. To my ear, she is this generation’s Gundula Janowitz -- the greatest soprano ever to have graced a stage.

Arion was in perfect sync with her, and performed with superb expression without ever Yaap ter Lindenovershadowing her.

Likewise this cherished ensemble gave us a lovely Concerto grosso in D Major, in four movements by Pietro Antonio Locatelli. All Arion’s musicians were performing (the Boccherini had only five musicians accompanying Ms. Zomer). I wanted a little more crispness in the execution, but it was still perfectly paced with impeccable timing. What else would one expect with guest cellist Jaap ter Linden leading his string friends into playful fun. Smiles formed on the faces of everyone, including the audience during this blissfu’ part of the program.

Be it the Melancholy or Bliss part of the program ( (Bourgie Hall, February 10, 2013) -- it didn’t matter; Arion and Ms. Zomer gave us the emotional pick-up and inspiration needed to continue on during Montreal’s February doldrums.

It's a Bach Family Fest

How lovely to meet some of Johann Sebastian Bach's family through music. After all, J. S. had 20 children, though only ten survived. Arion's concert in Bourgie Hall featured five works, including a stunning concerto for two harpsichords, by the father himself. This piece -- the third in the program was exciting. On the stage was one huge harpsichord which resembled a grand piano with two keyboards at either end. It was played by soloists Hank Knox and Alexander WeimannAlexander Weimann. These two geniuses -- with Arion richly stressing its strings -- seemed to merge into one as impeccable timing with rapid-fire fingering did not risk segmenting their parts into two different pieces. As Mr. Knox explained, Bach wrote this C major concerto in five contrapuntal parts, so four hands certainly covered most of it. It was wonderfully executed with Arion enriching the lively harpsichord playing. Certainly the fugue and allegro effectively demonstrated the brilliance of these two internationally famous harpsichordists.

The concert opened with a work by Johann Bernhard Bach -- a distant cousin to the grand composer. This overture and suite for strings and double bass in E minor -- one of four of his orchestral suites -- was a perfect starter. Light and safe, it was written in the eighteenth-century when great demands were made on J.S. Bach as he led his Collegium musicum at Leipzig's Zimmermann Coffee-house. He borrowed from his cousin who wrote in the manner of Telemann, even copying down his cousin's compositions. This particular E minor work was lost, but it survived in a later, anonymous manuscript, based on the missing copy. One could imagine the work being played in a salon while la classe noble was eating dinner. Wilhelm F. BachMost surprising was the romantic music of Bach's oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann. Sadly, he died impoverished in 1784, and although he held several organist posts, his irascible nature made him most unpopular among patrons. His moodiness and sensitivity was injected into this work: Sinfonia for two flutes, strings and double bass in D minor. The Adagio opened with one hauntingly sad sustenuto note whose resolution created pathos and resignation that was heart-breaking. This piece was really most progressive in melody and intent. In the Allegro e forte (fugue), striking polyphonic resilience seemed to comprise a single compositional cry of pain where profound sorrow intensified as the double bass began the emotional journey, soon capturing the attention of the cello and ultimately joined by violins. Pathos and loneliness filled the hall. It was as if Wilhelm himself had risen from the grave to say: "I am the son of Bach -- the sufferer -- the eldest and bravest who wrote with daring emotion for the people."

Finally, Claire Guimond, Arion's artistic director, left us spellbound with her expressive flute playing in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Concerto in D minor. She stole the stage with her incredibly fast playing where the melody line ascended and descended without stop like a musical rollercoaster. It demanded expert fingering and inordinately sustained breath that only the best can manage. The performance presented perfect timing with her beloved Arion ensemble with the harpsichord anchoring much of it. It was a musical feat. Bach and the boys would have been proud of the entire Sunday afternoon performance.


A Journey of Musical Joy Performed with Mastery

Inside 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.

The 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.”

A charismatic 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.

In contrast 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.


Music Most Stimulating at Zimmerman Coffee House Concert

If only 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).

One 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 at Zimmerman’s.

Rachel PodgerThis 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 zealous violinist.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Indeed, 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!


Gaudin Delivers Diva Passion in Handel Arias

Karina 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 Karina Gauvinfemale 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.

Gauvin's 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.

It is 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.


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