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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 3, No. 2 October 1997

Bach: Goldberg Variations
Bernard Labadie, conductor
Les Violons du Roy
Sept. 27, 1997

Weep, o Montrealers! The best concert yet this season was the most poorly attended. Les Violons du Roy’s stunning Salle Claude-Champagne performance of Bernard Labadie’s brilliant new transcription for strings and continuo of Bach’s celebrated Goldberg Variations played to barely 50% capacity. Les Violons du Roy, the superstar Quebec City string orchestra takes a compromise approach to early music, playing with baroque bows (or replicas) on modern instruments. Orchestra founder and conductor Bernard Labadie has wisely placed the second fiddles opposite the firsts, creating an antiphonal effect that helped the listener focus more intently on the conversational nature of the violin writing. Particularly delightful was the additional continuo instrument - in this case, Sylvain Bergeron playing guitar in the Avison and Geminiani, and theorbo in the Bach. The first half of the evening was devoted to famous 18th century transcriptions: Charles Avison’s Concerti Grossi Nos. 1 in A and 9 in C (both after keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti) and Francesco Geminiani’s wonderful Concerto Grosso in D minor 'La Follia' (after the famous fiddle sonata of Arcangelo Corelli). The pièce de resistance was Labadie’s transcription of Bach’s "Air with several variations" BWV 988, aka the Goldberg Variations, which proved to be a stunning virtuoso showpiece for the ensemble. Les Violons du Roy are one hot band! Labadie’s arrangement used combinations of instruments, varying from two solo strings to the entire band. Labadie spread the solos among the first desk players. Variation 28 (which Labadie scored for solo violin, viola, cello, and theorbo) was absolutely magical. The solo violin part was given to the principal second, a fabulous fiddler with a tone as sweet as if she was playing with a mute on. The opening aria and all thirty variations were given with repeats. In the reprise of the tune at the end the repeats were omitted. The entire concert was a rare treat and Labadie’s realisation of the Bach was a triumph. Purists may balk but Bach would probably have loved it just as much as did the audience. This was heaven. Alan Horgan

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