George Frederic Handel: Concerto grosso in B-flat Major, Op. 6, No. 7, "Hornpipe"
Georg Philipp Telemann: Suite in A Minor for alto recorder, strings and basso continuo, TWV 55:a2
Giuseppe Sammartini: Concerto in F Major for soprano recorder and strings
Francesco Geminiani: Concert grosso in D Minor (after Corelli's Sonata, Op. 5, No. 12, "La folia"
Concerto per flauto No. 10 in F Major (after Corelli's Violin Sonata, Op. 5, No. 10)
Maurice Steger (Recorder)
Les Violons du Roy, Bernard Labadie (Conductor)
Maurice Steger(© Marco Borggreve)
Bernard Labadie is a conductor who manages to create a uniquely warm sound wherever he conducts, but especially with the fine ensemble he founded 27 years ago, Les Violons du Roy. Visits to Toronto (from their home base, Quebec City) are unfortunately rare, so we were lucky to catch them on their recent tour. And adding a jolt of fun and mischief (not to mention astonishing musicianship) was Swiss recorder virtuoso, Maurice Steger.
The concerto grosso by Handel that opened the program was not one of the many he composed as intermission pieces to accompany an opera but is one of 12 composed in one month in 1739 intended for publication and hopefully wide concert performance, which it richly deserves. It is in five movements, all vividly contrasting, ending with the hornpipe that gives the work its nickname. The performance had sparkle, sensuousness and buoyancy, characteristics of the entire concert.
Telemann famously (or notoriously) wrote so many pieces that his work is thought by many to be just pleasant background music. He composed no less than 125 orchestral suites and the suite performed on this program is most definitely foreground music. The ouverture (just the first of its seven movements) could well stand alone as a dramatic symphony in miniature. Maurice Steger’s vehement approach to the piece featured him maintaining intense eye contact with both the conductor and lead violin, Nicole Trotier. In the second movement, Les Plaisirs, he seemed to be sharing a sly joke with the other players and the audience. At some moments his cheeky delivery of jaunty phrases sparked delighted laughter. The movement order was altered so that the piece ended with the dazzling fifth movement, réjouissance.
Mr. Steger’s performance in the Telemann fully earned his soloist’s fee, but then (how wonderful!) the second half of the program featured him in two more pieces.
The high point of Giuseppe Sammartini’s Concerto in F major was the second movement, a seductive Siciliano, where Steger fully demonstrated his ability with long musical lines that must surely challenge the player’s breathing abilities. The final piece on the program, Geminiani’s Concerto per flauto No. 10 is actually yet another dance suite, this time with a preludio and four dance movements performed (in the arrangement devised by Maurice Steger) in the following order: allemanda, sarabanda, giga, and gavotta. The final movement incorporates variations composed by the 18th century flutist Michel Blavet. Mr. Steger performed it all with his irrepressible brio. He is one of those delightful performers (Hugh Jackman is another) who convinces every member of the audience that he is flirting personally with her or him.
Between the two recorder concertos was Geminiani’s delightful Concerto grosso in D minor. It consists of 24 variations on the dance form la folia which appears in works by at least 150 composers (in fact Geminiani’s work is based on a violin sonata of Arcangelo Corelli). Watching the ensemble perform this intricate piece is fascinating as there is so much interplay between the various players, especially the lead violin and lead second violin, Véronique Vychytil.
Although this was the ensemble’s seventh performance of this program in as many cities in just ten days there was absolutely no sense of fatigue, boredom, or mere routine. As mentioned above, the fifth movement of the Telemann suite is a réjouissance, a rather unusual term that means “manifestation of joy”. The entire concert could well have been given this title.