Four Weddings, a Funeral and a Coronation

That headline is the fanciful title for Tafelmusik’s latest concert.  While it may remind you of a certain British film, it’s a fair description of the evening’s program: one of such remarkable variety, as to constitute a veritable smorgasbord of delights. At times we had Tafelmusik playing, at times, they accompanied Tafelmusik choir, or soloists, sometimes just a few playing.

We were mostly in the French orbit, if you allow that in addition to Lully & Charpentier, English composer Henry Purcell bears the influence of the French style: and we also had Blow, Pachelbel & Handel.


Four Weddings_Taurins_Citterio

Music Director Elisa Citterio, led at this moment by Choir Director Ivars Taurins (Photo: Jeff Higgins)

But it really did feel like several concerts combined into one.  Tafelmusik are at an interesting place in their history, continuing their remarkably collaborative approach to leadership.  As in the days of Jeanne Lamon (who is now gone) Elisa Citterio may be leading the band, but shares the mantle with choral specialist Ivars Taurins and Opera Atelier’s David Fallis (who is also a brilliant choral scholar btw).  No wonder Tafelmusik seem especially inspired, as they are unafraid to allow themselves to grow in all directions.

Tonight there was the electricity that comes with sharp changes of tone & focus.  Consider this program and how the different contexts demanded a different sensibility from the players:

  • Ballet from Xerxes by Lully (the first of four pieces for a wedding), for the full orchestra
  • Symphony and Airs from Ode From hardy climes” by Purcell (second wedding piece), played by a dozen players
  • Coronation Anthem “God spake sometime in visions” by Blow
  • Canon & Gigue by Pachelbel, so often played in our own century at weddings (I know I did on the organ a couple of years ago) played by keyboard, cello, theorbo and three violins
  • Requiem (the funeral piece) by Charpentier
  • Overture & Chorus “S’accenda pur” for another wedding

I can’t recall a concert with so much variety, but also, with so many genuine shifts.  At the end of the first segment, I was in heaven simply from having the experience of new pieces by Lully, arguably the most important unknown composer in history.  You’re always going to do well if he’s programmed and Tafelmusik didn’t disappoint.  From the Lully with its remarkable variety of timbres, including plaintive winds, long melodic lines and even drums played by Ivars Taurins, we came to the Purcell, on a smaller scale yet every bit as vibrant.

Taurins now assumed the conducting duties for the Blow as the choir came out, a piece full of wonderfully long phrases that were reflected in Taurins delightful sweeping gestures at the podium, building to a fervent Allelujah.  The contrast between Citterio & Taurins animated the performance, a visceral shift of gears.

Four Weddings_performance

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, with Music Director Elisa Citterio (far left), and dynamic Choir Director Ivars Taurins (Photo: Jeff Higgins)

And to close the first half came a piece we think we know, but presented with remarkable freshness. It’s that wedding warhorse, the Pachelbel Canon & the Gigue (although the Gigue is not so well known) , played by three solo violins. But for each entry they would ornament as if improvising, bringing a jazzy edge to the work that’s actually apt for a band purporting to offer something historically informed.  How wonderful to make this well-known piece—and the Gigue that follows—seem so new.

To begin the second half we were in an entirely different place emotionally and musically, namely Charpentier’s Messe des morts, a setting of the Requiem texts that we know so well via Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi and others. But Charpentier holds up a mirror, suggesting that those others are merely making music, merely creating entertainment.  For Charpentier it’s clear that these texts are real, that he was engaged in an act of piety, a work that stays devoted to its subject rather than spiraling off into decorative orchestration as we hear from the romantics (mentioned above).  At times Charpentier calls upon a soloist, but not as a virtuoso act –as we came to expect with those later composers I mentioned above—but rather to shift from something broad and public, fit for a large chorus, and to speak with the solitary voice of a soloist.  Echoing what I said about Lully, similarly, this too is a work deserving to be better known.

We closed with a Handel chorus including solos, a short celebratory piece for another wedding.  Taurins gets an entirely different sort of response from his chorus to finish, in a piece that isn’t as intense as the Charpentier.

The concert repeats Friday & Saturday night plus Sunday afternoon Dec 1, 2 & 3 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St Paul’s Centre.  For further information click here.

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