Handel’s London

The concept of Tafelmusik’s latest concert, titled “Handel’s London” channels some modern ideas through the baroque composers. It’s also a good excuse for listening to lovely baroque music.

Keyboardist Avi Stein, who was both the curator and guest director, explained the rationale in his elaborate program notes, one of the things I always love about Tafelmusik concerts.

We may think of Handel coming to London, without recognizing that many other musical figures also came there, for instance Joseph Haydn (who’s not in the group we heard tonight).  It was a crossroads for composers coming from many different Eurpean countries. By placing some unfamiliar composers –such as Johann Kusser, Francesco Geminiani or Pieter Hellendaal—alongside more familiar ones—such as Henry Purcell & George Frideric Handel, we get a new understanding of their context.  At times one notices similarities (to be expected in a concert of baroque music), but there were exciting moments when we heard something new.

Hellendaal? New to me, and sounding like a complete original. I swear at one point he seemed to employ a call & response that sounded like a baroque take on what we hear in spirituals. 

Kusser reminded me of Purcell, very French sounding at times as he employed winds to add brilliant colours & an effusion of melody.  I wish I could hear more.

Tafelmusik also included a short piece composed by Allen Whear, who passed away earlier this year.

Allen Whear, 1957-2022 (photo: Sian Richards)

As the program tells us:
In 2006, Music Director Jeanne Lamon asked Allen to compose a short piece for the orchestra. He titled it Short Story,… Allen refers to musical memories, and in playing Short Story we hear his voice again, and the music inspires memories of our dear friend and colleague.”

Here is his program note:

When Jeanne Lamon first approached me about writing a new piece for Tafelmusik, we had just finished touring a program that ended with Purcell’s Chaconne from The Fairy Queen. This is one of those tunes that sticks with you as you leave the concert hall.  We all process musical memories in different ways; melodic fragments can repeat themselves endlessly in your mind (sometimes annoyingly), or else they can be encouraged to evolve into something quite different as they merge with music of diverse styles and influences. This was the starting point for my piece, Short Story. While it is not a theme and variations per se, certain motives from the melody or from the bass line of the Purcell—some only two or three notes long—are the basis of a fantasy which explores this fragmentation and synthesis of musical memories.

Keyboardist Stein, who led every other performance, stepped away while Tafelmusik played Short Story.  The blank space (a harpsichord without its player) seemed apt considering that we were celebrating an absence. I was reminded of the practice of the riderless horse in funeral processions (as in JFK’s funeral), even if the missing cellist was not a keyboardist. And it made sense because this was really a personal connection to their missing player.   His piece picked up on a famous Purcell tune that we heard just before , now explored in variations, deconstructed and reframed in the new piece.

The ensemble brought their highest level of commitment to the performance, in effect celebrating their colleague. This was for me the highlight of the concert.

Concept or no concept, it was great to hear Tafelmusik, sounding marvellous.

The concert repeats Saturday September 24 at 2pm at Jeanne Lamon Hall.

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