Pahud and Labadie team up for energetic evening of Baroque music

Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Emmanuel Pahud performed Wednesday night at the Harris Theater with Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy. Photo: Lou Denim

Emmanuel Pahud was the clear headliner Wednesday night with Les Violons du Roy in support. Yet superb as the Swiss flutist’s performances were, the playing of the Montreal-based Baroque ensemble under Bernard Labadie resonated in the memory just as much after the concert at the Harris Theater.

Labadie has conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on several occasions–including a memorable Saint John Passion in 2010—yet local visits by Labadie’s own band are more infrequent.

Founded by Labadie in 1984, the fifteen-member Les Violons du Roy perform on “modern” instruments but with a stylish and keenly informed period sensibility. Under Labadie’s vital and energetic direction, the performances elevated a slight program centered on non-essential Baroque flute concertos by composers who wrote for the flute-playing monarch Frederick II of Prussia, music featured on Pahud’s latest EMI recording.

Named principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at age 22, Pahud still holds that post as well as enjoying a high-profile solo career. His singular qualities were immediately manifest in the dilettante Flute King’s own Flute Concerto No. 3 in C major. The musical inspiration is decidedly slender, but Pahud’s relaxed, natural style and peerless technique brought out the galant style in a gracious manner.

Frederick’s teacher, Johann Joachim Quantz wrote a bewildering 305 flute concertos. His Concerto for Flute, Strings and Basso Continuo, QV5:174, is on a higher level than his royal pupil, with a slow movement that approaches a Mozartian depth of expression.

Pahud’s playing is truly the art that disguises art, with an easy gracious style that suits this elegant idiom. His long-breathed legato in the dark-hued Arioso e mesto and Pahud’s effortless and immaculate bravura in the Presto finale makes you half-wonder if the flutist possesses an extra lung.

Pahud also brought out the spare, inward expression of the Largo in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Flute Concerto in A major as well as delivering full-metal virtuosity in the closing movement, with Labadie’s detailed yet unpedantic dynamic making and textural clarity underlining the composer’s quirky string writing. An encore of Bach pere’s Badinerie, with several grace notes throw in—as if the original isn’t challenging enough—made a bracing encore.

The evening began with Franz Benda’s Symphony No. 1, a compact and breezy opener. Labadie put across the music on its own terms with a charming and vigorous opening movement, exploring a not-too-dark vein of introspection in the Andante, and delivering a vivacious finale with notably spirited playing. The ensemble was also featured in the Ricercare from J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering in a flowing and inevitable-seeming account of the six-part fugue that brought out the music’s somber eloquence.

Of all of Bach’s gifted progeny, CPE Bach was clearly the bad boy of the Bachian brood, as shown in his Symphony in B minor. Labadie and colleagues put across the jarring dislocations, abrupt gear-shifts and sudden dynamic swells to lively and invigorating effect.

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