The Violons du Roy along with conductor Bernard Labadie offered a concert of Mozart’s last three symphonies tonight in the Maison Symphonique de Montréal. An apt program, these three symphonies were written by Mozart in rapid succession in the summer of 1788. Mozart’s fabled swiftness as a composer, and the relative ease with which he wrote, did not lead to mediocrity in any of his works. This genius could scribble music onto soiled tavern napkins or on reams of pages strewn about his billiard table, and the product was nearly always sublime. Such is the case for these last three titans in his symphonic output, dramatic in scope yet continuously elegant and regal—no. 39 acting as a kind of classical bridge to the tumultuous and revolutionary no. 40, and finally the triumphant cry of unfettered joy and optimism that we find in the Jupiter Symphony, no. 41, which would so inspire composers like Beethoven and Brahms.

Bernard Labadie © David Cannon
Bernard Labadie
© David Cannon

The program offered tonight turned out to be perfect music for the Maison Symphonique, which acoustically supports delicate and nuanced sound best. The grand Symphony no. 39 in E flat opened majestically, punctuated by dotted rhythms which would well suit a procession of nobility. Conductor Bernard Labadie was scoreless and elegant in his grand, sweeping gestures, never obtrusive and continually inspiring musical gesture. André Morin’s skilled hands pulled sound from the kettle-drums rather than pounding them, and as the grandeur continued to unfold it was obvious that concertmaster Pascale Giguère was of the finest order of orchestra leaders—her playing was marked by fierce intensity paired with intense expression and movement. She rarely watched her music, eying Labadie like a hawk—a veritable conductor’s dream.

The art of playing Mozart effectively is all about musical gesture. Labadie must have trained the orchestra masterfully to find the most effective, logical and meaningful gestures in these works. Leaning into suspensions and away from consonances, decreasing in volume and intensity over ascending lines—these are the kind of expressive decisions the Violons du Roy made, and the result was divine.

The Symphony no. 40 in G minor, one of only two minor-mode symphonies Mozart wrote, opened with soft, silky tones. The opening phrase inhaled and exhaled with masterful expression. Moments of savage ferocity in the music were still exacted with refined grace. The development, one of Mozart’s finest and most innovative, is a journey through a dense forest of harmonic wandering which uses fifths as a means of transportation, but is often guided down chromatic trails. After the fiery climax of these fledgling strands of Romanticism, the woodwinds snake and wind their way back to the tonic and the first theme. This was a fantastic interpretation by the Violons du Roy and Labadie. At the end of the movement, I was sad to see it end, almost like the final pages of a great book. The second movement, a 6/8 adagio, was played with a perfect tempo by Labadie. In fact, all of his tempi were wonderful tonight. The G Minor Symphony is one of those rare works in which each movement is equally as profound and masterful as the last. After the final chords the Violons and Labadie left the audience eager to hear the rest of the concert.

The Symphony no. 41 in C major, “Jupiter” is one of the most enduring works in classical music, and also one of the most forward-thinking creations of Mozart. There is much opera in this music, and Labadie accentuated that fact, but there is also a highly intellectual motivic exploration, particularly in the last movement which contains a second development in which all three themes are pitted against each other simultaneously. Labadie was at his best in this movement, dragging his baton through the air with both hands to pull the rich strains from the string section, and often dancing in complete joy, inspiring some of the lightest and most buoyant articulation in the concert. The audience was on its feet almost immediately after the final chords. After Labadie entered a third time and asked the orchestra to rise, they defied him and remained seated, acknowledging his performance which was both exhaustively intelligent and demonstrative.

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