The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra has been spending a lot of time in the wrong era lately.
At the beginning of February, the Toronto band joined conductor Bruno Weil for performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. On Thursday night, it was guest violinist Mira Glodeanu leading the orchestra in three works by Mozart, including his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Sinfonia Concertante and 40th Symphony in G Minor.
The baroque and classical eras were not that far apart chronologically. Joseph Haydn, archetypal classical composer, actually sang as a choir boy at Antonio Vivaldi’s funeral. But stylistically, the two musical epochs couldn’t be more different. The authentic baroque sound – the one that Tafelmusik cultivates – is clean, vibrato-less, urgent, speedy, energetic. Music of the classical era is more varied sonically, more dramatic, more nuanced. So when a baroque ensemble plays classical music with all their baroque quirks, interesting things can happen.
The results were mixed Thursday night in Tafelmusik’s all-Mozart program. Tafelmusik’s normal sharpness wasn’t in as much evidence as usual for the famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Phrases just sat on the page, and what should have been all glitter and sparkle seemed dull and colourless by comparison.
On the other hand, Symphony No. 40, one of the foundation documents of Western art, fared better at Tafelmusik’s hands. Not perfectly, however. Sometimes the first movement barrelled along like it was a Telemann concerto, where pace and flow predominated, rather than phrasing or drama. But in many other places, like the powerful second movement, or the sprightly third, the music emerged with character and shading, the best of the classical era meeting the best of the baroque. The last movement, baroque-ish to begin with, whizzed along with great verve.
But the highlight of the evening was a full-out, passionate reading of the Sinfonia Concertante (basically a double concerto for violin and viola) by Julia Wedman and new Tafelmusik violist Stefano Marcocchi. Standing toe and toe and trading licks like members of U2, Weldman and Marcocchi galvanized the ensemble into creating a lush, sensitive take on the piece that had the Tafelmusik audience as enthusiastic as I’ve seen it for a long time. Life and energy sprang off the stage as though they were on springs, catapulting into the audience. Whether it was pulsing forward in the first movement, or creating a dialogue with exquisite sadness in the second, Wedman and Marcocchi made the absolute most of their music.
Based on this one experience, violinist/leader Mira Glodeanu was at her best when the orchestra moved through the music with speed and discipline. Sometimes, however, when she relaxed her tempos a bit, that urgency was dissipated, and the band sounded a little flat, disengaged. But at all times, the gorgeous sonorities of the bassoons, and the Tafelmusik winds in general, reminded you of the advantages of listening to period instruments, even when they stray from their musical comfort zone. Mozart sounded pretty good for much of the evening in this “foreign” musical territory, testimony to the musical commitment of the Tafelmusik band.
Tafelmusik’s Best of Mozart continues through Sunday afternoon (tafelmusik.org).Report Typo/Error
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