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It was a special night at Koerner Hall. Qućbec’s famed chamber orchestra, Les Violons du Roy conducted by Mathieu Lussier, joined with the world-renowned French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. The house was as full as I have seen it all year for this musically singular event.  

​​Jaroussky is on a whirlwind of appearances in 2017. He ended his year last year performing in the opera Alcina in Zurich with Cécilia Bartoli. In January, he toured European capitols  performing Telemann and Bach cantatas with Frieburger Barockorchester. In March, he performed Le Mythe d’Orfće, a concert adaptation of the story of Orpheus with the music of Sartori, Rossi, Monteverdi, and Gluck. Following tonight’s concert, he will travel to Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brazil and Columbia before returning to Germany at the beginning of May.

Jaroussky’s current tour in the Canadian cities of Qućbec, Montréal and Toronto with Les Violons du Roy, has him singing selections from Handel’s operatic arias. The concert was successfully conceived to be akin to one of Handel's operas in concert. The recitatives followed by da capo arias were preceded by and interspersed with orchestral interludes in the manner of a Baroque opera. In this instance, there was one singer instead of several and the orchestral interludes included works by composers Johann Joseph Fux and Johann Gottlieb Graun in addition to Handel’s Overture from Ottone, re di Germania, HWV 25 which opened the program. It certainly felt like an opera as it carried the emotions of a Baroque operatic plot capturing the joy of love, the anguish of impending death, the bravura of one ready to do battle, and the resignation of one’s fate. It was all there!

Jaroussky played the various roles with dramatically convincing portrayals in each aria, but more importantly with a beautiful singing voice that is difficult to imagine. He took the Handelian melismatic scales at break-neck speed without losing clarity. His musical phrasing was incomparable and when he hit the long-held climactic high notes, it was with such ease and purity as you could wonder why it is beyond the scope of others to match the quality. His voice was like a majestic song-bird.

Les Violins du Roy, for the most part in an accompanying role, performed stylistically, sensitively and with great dramatic passion when called for under the competent direction of Associate Conductor Mathieu Lussier. On their own they showed wonderful versatility in Johann Joseph Fux’s seven movements from Overture in D Minor, E.109 and in Johann Gottlieb Graun’s Symphony in B-flat major, GraunWV;XII;27.

The nineteen members of the Les Violons du Roy consist of fourteen strings, two oboes, bassoon, harpsichord and archlute. One can’t help drawing a comparison between this ensemble and Toronto’s Tafelmusik. Both have garnered impeccable reputations at home and abroad; both have many successful recordings to their credit; and both are committed to historically informed performances of baroque and classical repertoire. The use of modern instruments with steel strings by Les Violons du Roy however, results in a distinctly brighter sound even though the string players used baroque bows and limited vibrato. We can be happy in the knowledge that both are available to us in Canada.

The concert ended with three encores by Jaroussky and the orchestra that included humour and the ever poplular Ombra Mui Fu from Handel’s opera Xerxes, better known by some as Handel’s Largo. Let’s hope that we will not have to wait another five years before Les Violons du Roy make a return or another six years before Jaroussky is back.

Koerner Hall’s series of concerts continues through April and May featuring classical, contemporary, jazz and world music. On Friday, April 28th  at 8pm, the Montrose Trio and Friends will perform works by Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Pianist John Kimura Parker, violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith will be joined in the concert by some of Toronto’s finest chamber musicians.

Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky; Photo credit: Misteria Paschalia

Les Violons Du Roy

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON April 14 2017

LES VIOLONS DU ROY and countertenor PHILIPPE JAROUSSKY combine for a baroque operatic showcase!