Montreal likes to market itself as the Paris of North America. It is therefore an ideal venue for a concert of classical music with a Paris connection. It was a treat for Montrealers to hear a live performance by the Quebec-based Les Violins du Roy, a renowned chamber orchestra. They were led by their new music director, the British cellist and conductor Jonathan Cohen.

Sandrine Piau
© Sandrine Expilly | Naïve

The evening began, aptly enough, with Mozart's “Paris” Symphony (no. 31). Particularly in the first movement, it was clear that this stellar orchestra had been well rehearsed. Ensemble playing was tight. Overall both the tuning and balance were top notch. Les Violins du Roy achieved a spirited, yet well controlled interpretation, due in part to the use of period instruments by many of the winds and brass players. Cello and bass lines were not well delineated at times, but this was more than likely due to the acoustics of Montreal's Maison Symphonique.

With featured soloist Sandrine Piau, the music leapt off the page. The expressiveness of this Parisian soprano was abundantly apparent. Her resonance filled the hall without forcing her voice. In the concert aria Ch'io mi scordi di te?the interplay between Piau and leader Pascale Giguère was highly effective. Giguère played with laudable lyricism and also displayed sparkling technical facility. The other Mozart concert aria on offer, Bella mia fiamma, was well handled. Unfortunately, some of Piau's lower notes were lost in this work.

Haydn's Symphony no. 85 in B flat major “La Reine” was included in this program of classical music with a French connection, as it is one of the composer's Paris symphonies and purportedly a favourite of Marie Antoinette. Oboist Marjorie Tremblay played beautifully in the opening movement. Les Violins du Roy were usually, but not always, at their best in their rendition of this work. The orchestra's realisation of the third movement's first theme was a standout.

Three arias from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro rounded out the evening. Piau was obviously at home with this operatic repertoire, which she sang eloquently, with facility and a gorgeous, shimmering quality to her tone. Her lower notes projected better in these selections. Flutist Ariane Brisson contributed handsomely to the splendour of the Giunse alfin il momento aria.

Fortunately, Les Violins du Roy are planning more visits to the Paris of North America over the course of their upcoming concert season. At this performance, their efforts were sincerely appreciated by the audience. One could sense that both performers and audience left the hall in elevated spirits.