Les Violons du Roy concert at Strathmore: Stellar early-music ensemble’s time to shine

October 16, 2013

Is Les Violons du Roy perhaps the best early-music ensemble in North America? Check. International opera star Stephanie Blythe? Check. A top-notch program of 18th-century music? Check. The Music Center at Strathmore presented what was probably one of the top 10 concerts of the year Tuesday night, and only a couple of hundred people heard it.

The Quebec-based chamber orchestra played two baroque suites with stylistic panache, near-perfect intonation and laser-precise ensemble. Telemann’s Suite in C was distinguished by its crisp “Harlequinade” and playful “Bourrée en trompette,” but the suavely somnolent “Sommeil” took the cake, the strings’ period bows creating impeccably hushed tones.

Bach’s fourth orchestral suite was no less poised, the three oboes again admirably in the spotlight — a gold standard for Bach against which some local ensembles would be found wanting. Genial conductor Bernard Labadie led with ease, helping to give contour and variety of dynamics and articulation to each carefully turned phrase.

Mezzo-soprano Blythe filled the hall with a clarion voice, first in Haydn’s cantata “Arianna a Naxos,” in a lovely, anonymous arrangement for strings. One never had the feeling that she was compressing her large sound, and the emotional climaxes of the piece had a searing quality.

In three arias from Handel’s “Giulio Cesare,” Blythe’s voice was electrifying in its dramatic qualities, with cadenzas that took her to both extremes of her considerable range, adding some mind-blowing ornamentations on the da capo repeats. The encore, “Che farò senza Euridice?” from Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” brought the evening to an exquisite close.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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