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
SEASON CULMINATES IN A FANFARE OF BAROQUE MUSICAL MANIA
and Fireworks” Concert Rises in a Tsunami of Excitement
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 occasional
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.
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.
Overture in C major “Hamburger 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.
#1 ©Jean Guimond
MONTANARI IS BAROQUE'S HIPPEST VIOLINIST OF VIRTUOSO BRILLIANCE
Sunday, April 10th, Bourgie
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.
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.
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.
brought us another Italian composer who Mr. Montanari called crazy
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 www.arionbaroque.com
or call (514) 355-1825.
CROQUE NOËL CONCERT FEASTS ON CORRETTE
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 Arionbaroque.com for your tickets.
ASCENDS INTO RAPTUROUS BEAUTY WITH HUMAN ANGELS SINGING AND ARION
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
composers of the evening whose collective genius galvanized the
musical world nearly 450 years ago still resonate within our hearts.
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
VIVALDI IN 'BEYOND THE FOUR SEASON'S' CONCERT (Oct. 9th)
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.
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.
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.
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.
compositions constitute a never-ending harmonic ride of rhythms,
melodies and tempi – all brilliantly enlivened by Arion
in last night’s program.
FLUTES AND COMPANY CONCERT -- A SUBLIME EXPERIENCE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
AND CAMPRA CREATE A LOVELY COMBINATION
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
soloists, baritone David Roth was stunning in delivering “Kyrie”
segment of the work, and was joined by tenor, Philippe Gagné.
Their voices shine.
entire Messe was so uplifting and sublime; the religious theme
of the music was passionately conveyed.
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.
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
CONVEYS COURTLY SWEETNESS OF C.P. E. BACH
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
BAROQUES" -- CONCERT WAS TAME
, 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.
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.
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
ONOFRI OFFERS INSPIRATIONAL BAROQUE PERFORMANCE OF CONCERTI
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.
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.
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.
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
concert, titled “Rebelle Baroques” is November 14-16th.
For more information, consult the website at: www.arionbaroque.com
BERNARDINI LEADS ARION INTO VENETIAN BLISS IN VENT DE VENISE
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.
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.
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.
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)
HITS THE BAROQUE'S BULL'S EYE BEAUTIFULLY AT SEASON'S OPENING
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
the singing quality heightened by a most appealing melody was
apparent in Galuppi’s Concerto for four strings in B
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.
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.
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.
CONCERT OF TWO MASTERS
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.
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.
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.
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.
Zomer Sings Sadness Beautifully in ‘From Melancholy to Bliss’
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 tonal
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.
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.
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.
was in perfect sync with her, and performed with superb expression
without ever overshadowing
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.
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
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
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.
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. Most
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."
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
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.