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Monday, January 24, 2005; Page C05

Les Violons du Roy

Les Violons du Roy, a chamber orchestra based in Quebec, gave a scintillating program of Handel and Bach, conducted by Bernard Labadie, Friday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Two elements predominated in the programming: arias sung by guest soprano Karina Gauvin, and baroque dances in Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 1 and a suite from Handel's opera "Alcina." Vocally and instrumentally, the performance was a model of style and technical precision.

The Bach suite was the only familiar music on the program, though the Handel arias are known to devotees of baroque opera. The dance suite from "Alcina" was carefully calculated and balanced, with an element of fantasy ("Entry of Pleasant Dreams," "Entry of Bad Dreams," "Combat Between Bad and Pleasant Dreams") as well as the standard dance forms.

Conductor Bernard Labadie, who led Les Violons du Roy at the Terrace Theater. (Kennedy Center)

The orchestra's playing of these suites was something of a revelation, not only because of its fine ensemble but because it emphasized the kinetic elements implicit in the dance numbers that give the music much of its vitality. The musicians focused on the special qualities of each dance genre, what makes a minuet different from a bouree, gavotte or passepied.

In the Handel arias, Gauvin showed herself a complete artist, capable of stratospheric agility in "Tornami a vagheggiar," pure, beautifully supported tone in "Piangero la sorte mia," and intense dramatic expression in "Ah! mio cor." It all came together with smashing impact in "Lascia ch'io pianga," an encore that was the highlight of the evening.

-- Joseph McLellan

Hantai Trio and Ryo Terakado

Imagine a snowy evening in the salon of an elegant Parisian house almost three centuries ago. People are gathered around a quartet playing music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, a Bach contemporary at a time when court musicmaking was passing into the upper-bourgeois living room. That scene matches the cozy setting Saturday at the French Embassy, where the Hantai Trio -- brothers Marc, flute; Pierre, harpsichord; and Jerome, viola da gamba -- joined with violinist Ryo Terakado performing Rameau's "Pieces de Clavecin en Concerts." And doing so with wit, imagination, virtuosity and a constant throb, that metrical baroque undercurrent that one feels even more than hears.

Saturday's audience was swept away by the ensemble's attention to Rameau's musical character sketches that mixed the droll, passionate and comically absurd with a shade of ironic parody that is French alone. Whether in a trio or quartet, the players doubled each other's lines or took individual roles with elaborate, flowing ornaments, timbral color, precise articulation and daring feats like the harpsichordist's hand-crossing wizardry. In varying ways, Rameau musically characterized feelings or his musical contemporaries: haunting melancholy for "La Timide," spiciness for "La Poupliniere" (a wealthy bureaucrat and Rameau's patron), a zesty record-breaking speed for "Tambourins" and a sonically spacious lament for "La Livri."

The concert will be repeated tonight at 7:30.

-- Cecelia Porter

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