Tafelmusik: now wait for next year

Tafelmusik are finishing their 2016-17 season with a series of concerts this weekend at Koerner Hall: that portend great things for next year. And maybe that’s what they wanted to do, leaving us all hot and bothered in anticipation of the season to come after the summer’s over.


Tonight’s program was a clever reconciliation between two of Tafelmusik’s myriad personalities. Consider that sometimes:

  • They play in the pit for Opera Atelier
  • They work with Tafelmusik Baroque chorus, especially when it’s time to do the Messiah,
  • They started out with a heavy emphasis on the baroque
  • But they also play classical (tonight we heard Haydn & Mozart) and even romantic (next year we’ll be hearing more Beethoven, but have ventured deeper into the 19th century than that: as we shall see).

The baton has been passed, in this curious triumvirate who lead this orchestra, even though the conducting is mostly done without a baton:

  • David Fallis leads when they play opera as they did just a couple of weeks ago at the Elgin Theatre (and he’s the only one with a baton), and again when they’re in Versailles on the Opera Company’s imminent tour
  • The choral repertoire is under the capable leadership of Ivars Taurins
  • Jeanne Lamon retired, and now we’ve had opportunities to see her successor, Elisa Citterio leading while also playing the violin

The two aspects of Tafelmusik heard tonight were the classical symphony side, in a Haydn Symphony led by Citterio followed by Mozart’s incomplete choral masterwork, his Mass in C Minor, led by Taurins.

Yes it sounds great. But I can’t help seeing it all as a brilliant exercise in kaizen, continuous improvement, pushing the orchestra to ever higher levels of achievement and enlightenment. Under Taurins they’re led by a choral conductor whose gestures seem to equalize all parts of the score, treating each entry –whether instrumental or vocal—with the same sense of importance & drama, with the same loving care. Under Citterio they’re led by one of their players, listening and following one another as though a big loud symphony were chamber music. In each situation one watches and listens differently.

They’re learning and growing every time they play.

Need I add, that tonight’s concert was stunningly beautiful from beginning to end, a masterful piece of programming executed with care & love.

We began with Citterio leading Haydn’s Symphony #98. The passions in this work seem to erupt, the orchestra powerful and brassy at times. The performance was very tight, but still loosy—goosey as far as any sense of tension or discomfort. Hm, that doesn’t sound very technical does it? but this orchestra seems very happy working with Citterio, very eager to respond. And Haydn fits this ensemble rather well, whether in the soft & lyrical moments early on, or in the occasional sturm und drang with which we’re presented. As the season approaches its end –and they prepare to fly off to Europe—this is a very self-assured band who know who they are. I don’t think it’s my imagination that they love playing with Citterio, and the feeling seems to be mutual.


Soprano Julia Doyle (Raphaelle Photography)

After the interval it was Taurins turn along with the Tafelmusik baroque choir and soloists Julia Doyle, Joanne Lunn, Asitha Tennekoon and Joel Allison, in the Mozart. The orchestra sounded truly heavenly throughout, the chorus matching them. In the dark “qui tollis peccata mundi” it was a delight to watch Taurins bringing out inner voices, signalling both the performers and the audience to help us navigate the contrapuntal complexities.

Doyle was especially fine in her solos in the Kyrie and the “Et incarnatus est”, her pitch pristine, her phrasing angelic.  But much as I love Tennekoon’s light fluid voice, I’m not sure whether he’s over-parted in this fach, or that the sopranos were simply too loud, and forgot themselves in competing with one another, both in the trio & the quartet. I giggled to myself imagining if one of these had been Constanze Mozart (given that the composer’s wife sang one of those soprano parts). But in a sacred piece such as this I would have expected more attention to balance, more restraint. It’s not opera. Hm or maybe it could have been fixed had the singers been given the acoustical “sweet spot” at the front of the stage, rather than relegated to a place with the chorus. But I’m being a perfectionist, reflecting on a concert that flirted with perfection.


Music Director Designate Elisa Citterio (photo: Monica Cordiviola)

The concert was unforgettable in so many ways. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking “see you in September”, wanting to hear more, and eager to hear Tafelmusik again with Citterio. Their chemistry seems to be very good. If you can’t wait until the autumn this wonderful program is repeated Saturday night at 8 pm & Sunday afternoon at 3:30.

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1 Response to Tafelmusik: now wait for next year

  1. Brian steele says:

    Definitely prefer to see and hear the soloists in front of the orchestra, rather than behind, especially for those seated close to the stage.

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