Les Violons du Roy

Bartók

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Québec-based string orchestra Les Violons du Roy was established as an early music ensemble focusing on the Baroque and Classical eras, so it's surprising to see the group moving into modern repertoire, but this isn't its first foray; this release was preceded by a 2006 album of Piazzolla tangos. In this recording of music by Bartók, the group is conducted not by its founder, Bernard Labadie, but by Jean-Marie Zeitouni, who also appeared on the Piazzolla album. The novelty on this release is Zeitouni's arrangement of Bartók's engaging and deservedly popular 1915 piano suite, Romanian Folk Dances, for the same ensemble as the composer's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste, which is also recorded here. There are existing arrangements of the piece for chamber orchestra and string orchestra, but none for this particular ensemble, and it's absolutely delightful. Zeitouni makes no attempt to mimic the sound of a folk ensemble, but his playful and quirky orchestration perfectly matches the spirit of the dances, and the orchestra plays the piece with tremendous panache. The reading of the 1940 Divertimento is also wonderfully animated; the crispness of the orchestra's rhythmic precision and its subtle dynamic shadings really make the piece sparkle. Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste inhabits an aesthetic sphere far removed form the folksy merriment of the other pieces, and here, too, Zeitouni draws an unusually nuanced performance from the orchestra. The lines are played so cleanly that it practically sounds like chamber music in the work's quieter moments. The orchestra can cut loose when asked to, and the climaxes have real power without sacrificing clarity. Atma's immaculate sound allows the smallest details to be heard, and the separation makes the performance especially vivid.

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