Review: Bernard Labadie’s welcome return to Disney Hall
Bernard Labadie, the Canadian conductor who had become the frequent go-to guy for 18th century music at Walt Disney Concert Hall and elsewhere in this region, returned Wednesday night with his Quebec-based chamber orchestra, Les Violons du Roy, kicking off a short North American tour.
For that alone, he and we were grateful, as Labadie has had to overcome stage 4 lymphoma during the last two years. He is not out of the woods yet; these days, he conducts seated without a baton to conserve his depleted energy. But otherwise, Labadie was pretty much his old musical self in front of this hybrid group that combines period-performance techniques with modern instruments.
Of course, Labadie’s version was nothing like those big-thinking showpieces. Instead, it illuminated the polyphonic aspects of the piece, far more so than the symphonic transcriptions or even the organ original. The repeating underlying passacaglia theme was set forth by harpsichord, cello and bass; there were duets, a pizzicato episode, violins questioning and answering each other, a lot of dynamic
contrasts. It sounded like a lively, long-lost Brandenburg concerto -- and it was the best thing on the program.
The other unusual twist on the program was that each of the three remaining pieces -- all standard fare from Bach and Handel -- was preceded by a meditative prelude. Another Labadie transcription -- this time, a rather dreary one of the Gravement movement from the Organ Fantasia in G, BWV 572 -- led into the Suite No. 1 from Handel’s “Water Music,” which gradually came together with increasing spirit and careful dynamic shadings.
Tharaud pretty much continued in that poetic vein in both concertos -- very legato, delicate, genteel, heavy on the pedal, clashing with the sharper-etched manner of Labadie and Les Violons du Roy. For me, these concertos needed a lot more rhythmic definition, swing and drive than what Tharaud’s concept could accommodate.
Labadie resurfaces here next in December when he returns to the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Handel’s “Messiah.”