Tafelmusik Beethoven 1 & 2

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra could drop the word “baroque” if they wanted.  Tonight I heard more evidence that they can play just about anything.

Their program was all Beethoven, namely the first and second symphonies, plus the overture to Creatures of Prometheus, a natural curtain raiser because it’s in the same key as that first symphony.

The evidence continues to mount that they’re not just purveyors of historically informed performance from the Baroque, even if they recognize this as a core competency, and the music that has served them well over the decades of audience building.  In May 2012 they played Beethoven’s Eroica symphony & Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony, and last winter offered a powerful version of Mozart’s Requiem with Tafelmusik baroque choir.  And in perhaps their boldest venture, they gave us Weber’s Der Freischütz with Opera Atelier.

So even if they can play romantic music, why change a successful formula, after all?  Audiences haven’t complained.  But I must sound as though I am complaining (I am a shit disturber) maybe because I like romantic music much more than baroque.

Tafelmusik sound different from what we may be accustomed to, with (for example) the Toronto Symphony, or the sounds of modern orchestras playing Beethoven on recordings.  It’s a sweeter, more plangent sound.  At times the brass can be jarringly loud.  And curiously, so too the strings, at least when they’re playing a lot of notes, as happens in the last movement of the 2nd symphony of Beethoven, a rushing rustling sound like water, something you feel because it’s very subtle.  There’s a fullness to the music that simply can’t happen with a modern orchestra.

There is an assurance to their performances of Beethoven that suggests they should play more of this repertoire.  I see the smiles on the players’ faces at times during the performance.

One of these seasons Tafelmusik should program a complete Beethoven symphony cycle.  They would never throw down the gauntlet, and lay claim to being the best orchestra in Toronto because it’s not their style.  Perhaps it’s a matter of testosterone (Tafelmusik has been led by a woman rather than a man) taking a more feminine approach in sharing leadership among several artists, such as Bruno Weil for Beethoven, Jeanne Lamon (for many years), Ivars Taurins for Messiah and great choral works, and David Fallis with Opera Atelier: and they are the richer for it.

Of course there’s room in Toronto for more than one great orchestra.  But I am frustrated, wanting to hear them undertake so many more works of the period.

  • Schubert’s symphonies?
  • Schumann’s symphonies & piano concerto
  • Mendelssohn’s other symphonies & overtures, and perhaps the music from A Midsummernight’s Dream
  • Berlioz… but his works require too many players, I fear

Conductor Bruno Weil

In the meantime, I am always eager to hear their Beethoven.  Bruno Weil leads crisp readings on the fast side, as one would expect in a historically informed performance such as this one.  At times Weil encourages powerful climaxes & a dissonant approach that seems to want to show us how daring Beethoven could be. To me it sounds very fresh, very new, yet elegant, balanced, witty and as brilliant as we’d expect Beethoven to sound.  Dare I say it: this is the real Beethoven.  Tafelmusik make it their own.

Tafelmusik’s concert of Beethoven Symphonies 1 & 2 continues this weekend on Sept 20th & 22nd at Koerner Hall.

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