The Violons du Roy opened their new season Thursday afternoon at the Palais Montcalm with The Seine in celebration, a little-known serenade for voice and orchestra by Vivaldi. A concert worthy of interest with soloists of varying interest.
The organization began its fall 2022 with a prestigious concert featuring Jeanne contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux and French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. In 2021, it was the great French soprano Sandrine Piau who opened the ball. Contrast, therefore, with the present vintage, where three singers little known to the younger generation made their debut at Les Violons du Roy in a niche work whose complete recordings can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Originally scheduled for June 2020 with soprano Ana Quintans, mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold and bass Ashley Riches, the event was postponed due to the pandemic. Only the second soloist, from Paris, remained on the bill, while the others were replaced by the Philadelphian Robin Johannsen and the Californian Alex Rosen.
Les Violons du Roy had for their part almost doubled in size, with a quartet of flutes (two recorders and two transverses), two oboes, a bassoon and a guitar added to the usual core.
Composed around 1725, probably following a commission from Jacques-Vincent Languet, French ambassador to Venice, to celebrate King Louis XV, the serenade (allegorical vocal work played outside in the evening to celebrate such a character) was probably performed for the first time in Quebec.
The three soloists, personifying the Golden Age (soprano), Virtue (mezzo-soprano), and Seine (bass), sing a total of 11 arias, 3 duets and 3 choirs, not counting the sinfonias which open each of the two parts.
With variable geometry
The interest of the score, which lasts approximately 80 minutes, varies. Alongside the magnificent arias “Al mio seno il pargoletto” (The Golden Age) and “Pieta, dolcezza, fanno il suo volto” (The Seine) and the amusing duet “Qui per darci amabil pace” (the two women), many numbers seem considerably more stereotypical. This is without mentioning the text, which is pure convention.
The performers serve this uneven work in an… uneven way. The best is undoubtedly Alex Rosen, an impressive, well-toned voice, which is reminiscent of that of his colleague Matthew Brook, a regular at Les Violons du Roy. He is particularly moving in “Pieta, dolcezza”, just pianissimo enough in the return of part A.
Robin Johannsen, close collaborator of chef René Jacobs, shows just as much presence and refinement, but with a voice that often lacks roundness.
As for Anna Reinhold, who sang in theOrfeo by Monteverdi conducted by Leonardo García Alarcón this summer at the Lanaudière Festival, she is impeccable vocally, but suffers from minimal stage commitment. The mezzo-soprano bites little into the words and does not seem very moved by what she sings.
The orchestra and its conductor are flawless. Conducting the harpsichord, Jonathan Cohen gives a lot of depth to the orchestral part, with tempos that always seem right. Sylvain Bergeron’s recorders and guitar add subtle colors to the ensemble.
The concert resumes at the Maison symphonique de Montréal on Sunday, at 2 p.m.