This is the week of all the Messiah’s happening around the country. It’s a tradition that goes back to Handel’s own time when it was more of an Easter tradition than the Christmas tradition it has become. This year, we elected to attend one of four performances by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir led by Choir Director Ivars Taurins at Koerner Hall. Last night’s concert was the second. Although my interest in attending was to hear an authentic, historically informed performance with period instruments, gut strings and genuine baroque ornamentation, it was once again the power of Handel’s music that took over. It was the dramatic impact of this great work rather than the gut strings that became the focus of my attention.

For the past 40 years or so there has been a general trend throughout the western world to use of a baroque sized orchestra with instrumentation close to what Handel may have used. Taurins and the Tafelmusik ensemble led the way in this regard years ago. What was distinctive about last night’s performance for me was the way in which every ounce of operatic drama was squeezed out of the music. This wasn’t just another musical performance. Handel was essentially an operatic composer. Taurins realized this and with every emphatic articulation, every crisp double-dotted rhythm, every contrast in dynamics, and every ornamented line, he infused the music with opera.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins, with tenor soloist Rufus Müller; Photo credit: Jeff Higgins.

Tafelmusik's Messiah emphasizes drama and authenticity in a stunning performance

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins
Photo credit: Jeff Higgins

Review by David Richards

​Toronto ON December 15th 2017


Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto and beyond!
- ​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​ -

Tafelmusik is to be commended for finding internationally acclaimed soloists for the four roles. Each of the soloists added to the notion that this was a music drama,  beginning with the English-German tenor, Rufus Müller. Singing without a score, he became the “voice of him crying in the wilderness”. His voice, darker than the usual lyric tenors, was perfect for both the reflectively beautiful lines and the exclamatory commands like “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  I can’t imagine a finer interpreter of the important tenor role in Messiah. It is no wonder that he has been called on for performances with some of the leading conductors of our time.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins, with soprano soloist Joanne Lunn; Photo credit: Jeff Higgins.

Each of the soloists was true to the spirit of creating an authentic and dramatic work. Joanne Lunn sang with stunning clarity, power and beauty. Her confident affirmation of faith in the aria, “I know that my redeemer liveth” was both exquisite and powerful. I loved the unique ornamentation that she used in the reprise to give emphasis to the words’ meanings. Equally effective was bass Brett Polegato. His whole body shook with righteous anger as he sang. ”I will shake the heavens and the earth.” Canadian counter-tenor Daniel Cabena filled in admirably for an ailing James Laing.

Toronto has come to expect exceptionally fine performances from Tafelmusik, but this Messiah ranks for me at the top of the many that I have heard or sang in over the years. The orchestra, with Christopher Verrette as concert master, played with energy and precision. The choir is as good as it gets. The twenty-three voices at times sound like a choir of three times its size and at other times like an intimate ensemble. I was as equally impressed by the a capella singing of “Since by man came death” as I was of the gloriously uplifting full-voiced melismatic singing in the “Amen”.

Following the “Hallelujah Chorus” I heard a woman say to her neighbor, “That’s the best music ever!” Performed as it was last night, I can’t disagree.

Tafelmusik will perform Messiah once again tonight, December 16, at 7:30pm at Koerner Hall. It will perfotrm its annual Sing-along version at Massey Hall at 2pm tomorrow, December 17. ​