In striking, immaculate and thrillingly resonant performances, the 14-member Quebec ensemble Les Violons du Roy made its Los Angeles-area debut in a room that could not have been better chosen: the high-ceilinged, basilica-like sanctuary of St. Andrew's, one of the more architecturally significant and inspiring churches built in Pasadena in the 1920s.
There, on Friday night, before the large and rapt audience of the Chamber Music in Historic Sites series, conductor-founder Bernard Labadie offered a program of four works from the 18th century, all of which had begun their lives in similar rooms, venues as spacious and acoustically alive as this one. Clarity, propulsion and tight balances marked all the performances.
In two differing settings of the "Stabat Mater" text, one by Vivaldi, the other written two decades later by Pergolesi, the conductor, soloists and ensemble let the works articulate their own agendas; both dwell more on the ecstasy of sacrifice than on its negative aspects.
The joys of suffering have seldom been so convincingly detailed as in these transparently beatific verses. In response, composer Pergolesi, even more so than Vivaldi, uncovered the pleasures of self-abnegation, the righteousness in selfless rapture, going directly from the grim to the exuberant. The accomplished solo singers, mezzo Catherine Robbin alone in the Vivaldi, and with soprano Karina Gauvin in the Pergolesi, gave virtuosic, ebullient performances, including exquisite trills and ornaments.
Throughout these demanding pieces, and also in Vivaldi's Concerto in A minor for two violins, Opus 3, No. 8, and in Geminiani's Concerto Grosso in D minor (on "La Follia"), the small string orchestra met high standards of ensemble, technical achievement and instrumental brilliance. The admirable soloists in the concerto were violinists Nicole Trotier and Julie Triquet.