Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra are at Koerner Hall this week. I can’t be the only one noticing the parallel between the title of tonight’s concert (“Mozart 40”) & a historical note in the program (“Tafelmusik at 40”) Perhaps its an accidental echo in programming Mozart’s 40th Symphony in the orchestra’s 40th year.
There is surely cause for celebration, listening to this self-assured ensemble, a prudent organization who have not over-extended themselves. So many performing arts ensembles have precarious existences & big debt. Tafelmusik appear to be safe. They sell lots of tickets and have a huge following. Their collection of media, both audio and video recordings is increasing.
And their choice of repertoire is slowly growing, edging ever closer to the more recent centuries.
Tonight’s all-Mozart concert was rapturously received. We heard two concerti, a symphony plus a brief curtain raiser, all in Tafelmusik’s trademark style. Theirs is a gentle sound, softer than many you’ll hear playing baroque or classical on authentic instruments in a historically informed style. They underplay in their intimate venues, encouraging us to listen closely to their sweet sound.
Music director Elisa Citterio was soloist in the K 218 Violin concerto in D major. Pieces like this are important for the growing relationship between her and her ensemble, both for the ways in which she signals & they follow, whether facing the audience or the ensemble, making eye contact or being followed by their close observation of her. It’s still the honeymoon I’d say, the facial expressions from various players at different times a big part of the experience. In the slow movement there are moments of great beauty. Citterio’s cadenzas are witty commentaries upon the work, rhetorical and bold.
After the interval we heard guest bassoon soloist Dominic Teresi in the concerto K 191 in B-flat major. Teresi’s sound is unlike any I’ve ever heard. While he has the agility you’d expect from a modern instrument, which is to say fast & accurate when necessary, the tone on his instrument is much softer than what you get on a modern bassoon. He has a legato that shapes the slower phrases as though it were a singing voice, but of a dark burnished colour. In places the a piacere approach he took with the ensemble was very theatrical, keeping us at times on the edge of our seats.
To close we heard the well-known Symphony #40 in G minor. Citterio’s reading is not like their recording led by Bruno Weil, as she employs some of the same theatricality I observed in the concerti.
At times –for example when we went from the first to the second subject in the finale—the orchestra was following Citterio closely –with exquisite eye contact—as there were rhetorical pauses. While the tempi were quick, it was though we were taking a breath, pausing for a moment’s reflection before plunging back in.
When I think back on the recording I grew up hearing, namely Karl Bohm leading the Berlin Philharmonic, it was all perfect & clean: but just a bit too serious, a bit too determined. From the first note, we were hearing thematic material, notes that are part of the construction of the piece. Okay, don’t get me wrong. It’s the same piece played by Tafemusik under Citterio. But it’s a living thing, as though being thought of in the moment, the way a good actor delivers it. Those opening notes were soft & understated, so that when we get the big climactic answers from the full orchestra there’s truly a sense of question and answer: uncertainty in the air. That sense of risk & adventure suits me just fine and seems truer to the spirit of the piece. When we were in the gorgeous slow movement, I noticed how adventurous the chromaticism of this piece seems, at least for its time. I like it when music from the 18th century seems new, adventurous.
And Citterio and Tafelmusik are on an adventure together.
The Mozart program is repeated this weekend, and then Tafelmusik will be back mid—October for “Vivaldi con amore” at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre & George Weston Recital Hall.