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The magic of Les Violons du Roy and Marc-André Hamelin

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Saying goodbye is hard to do, unless you're Haydn. Great performance of 'Farewell' Symphony at Shriver Hall.

Just for the record, last Sunday's program by Les Violons du Roy, the excellent Quebec-based chamber orchestra, and another notable French-Canadian, pianist Marc-André Hamelin, for the Shriver Hall Concert Series was a thorough charmer. (A flurry of duties and distractions has kept me from saying so until now.)

The ensemble, conducted with understated elan by Mathieu Lussier, had the first half of the concert to itself. A suite from Rameau's "Les Boreades" found the players in particular expressive form sculpting the bittersweet descending lines of the third movement, and getting downright hoedown-y in the rollicking finale.

Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony is most famous for its disappearing musicians routine at the end, but Lussier seemed determined to ensure that the other movements would also register with their full expressive weight. This they did, especially the quite poignant passages in the Adagio and Menuet. Some bumpy horn playing did not detract too much from the sensitive performance.

Hamelin joined the group after intermission for a crisp, but warm, account of Mozart's A major Rondo and a brilliant version of Haydn's D major Piano Concerto. The latter proved extra notable for the pianist's incisive, eventful cadenzas; the one for the second movement seemed to channel the spirit of jazz great Bill Evans for a few measures. Lussier and the orchestra gave the soloist supple partnering.

Hamelin responded to the ovation with a generous encore, a Schubert Impromptu that could not have been much more poetically phrased. (If you missed it, or want to relive it, the attached video captures Hamelin playing this piece in London last fall.)  

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