Benjamin Alard melted into the portrait

Touched by Luc Beauséjour’s convalescence, Harpsichord in Concert treated itself to a luxury replacement on Sunday, in the person of Frenchman Benjamin Alard, for a Bach feast at the Bourgie Hall. The guest for a day in no way sought to attract attention and blended into an ensemble led by the Cobalt Quartet, of which flautist Grégoire Jeay was ultimately the star soloist.

It was a great pleasure to see Luc Beauséjour appear in good form on stage to present his Bach program to us in his deadpan way. The Quebec harpsichordist clearly told the public that he had undergone triple bypass surgery and that his convalescence period would end on April 28. The next concert of Harpsichord in concert, on April 26, will be performed by the British Carole Cerasi as planned.

The musical arrangement chosen for this afternoon responds to Bach’s chamber aesthetic: harpsichord(s), a quartet, a double bass and a flute. Alard found in Karl-Frédéric Bolte a truly remarkable harpsichordist partner. The 24-year-old Quebec musician joined forces with the French star with admirable technical expertise, verve and musical breath in the Concerto BWV 1061, where the two instruments are completely exposed in the 2nd movement, before interweaving in the third. The stylistic unity of view and the continuous breathing space were served by two well-associated instruments.

Keyboards and acoustics

The dominant question, which became crucial in the 5th Brandenburg was that of the placement of keyboard instruments. Putting harpsichords behind the strings still means putting a lot of trust in them. Positioning at the Bourgie Hall is very difficult to assess before a concert, because the difference between an empty room and a full room is as difficult to gauge as the difference between the floor and the balcony. An optimized empty room/parterre setting can therefore reserve surprises in concert on the balcony and, in our opinion, there was no shortage of them.

The combined sound of the two soloists in the concerto was already a little timid compared to the accompaniment, but in the 5th Brandenburg Concerto Benjamin Alard’s instrument was too far back. This still passed for the harpsichord, violin, flute trio of the 2nd movement. But in the balance of the 1st movement, the flute at the front left edge was too prominent (fortunately Grégoire Jeay plays well!). Certainly, we could clearly hear the brilliant cadence of Benjamin Alard. But there are tutti passages, just before, where the harpsichord gradually takes over, which was absolutely not perceptible. We mainly heard the accompanying figures. The scales as established were more in position for the 2nd Suite where the harpsichords have more of a continuo role.

We therefore noticed Grégoire Jeay at least as much (even more spectacular in the Bourrées than in the Badinerie de la Following) that Benjamin Alard and the reminder, a cover of the Minuet of the Followingrather than a movement from a harpsichord concerto which would have given the distinguished guest the opportunity to shine a little more, did everything to convince us of this.

But the afternoon was very pleasant, with excellent musicians, including this remarkable Cobalt Quartet, with Tanya LaPerrière in place of Diane Bayard, led by Guillaume Villeneuve with unstoppable instrumental solidity.

Harpsichord in concert

“Instrumental party signed Bach”. Concerto for two harpsichords BWV 1061, Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, Orchestral Suite No. 2. Benjamin Alard (harpsichord), Karl-Frédéric Bolte (harpsichord), Cobalt Quartet, Francis Palma-Pelletier (double bass), Grégoire Jeay (flute). Bourgie Room, Sunday March 3, 2024.

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