Review by Dave Richards
Toronto ON February 24th 2018
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir showed once again last night at Koerner Hall why they are Canada’s gold medal deserving ensemble in their performance of Handel’s ode to St. Cecilia, Alexander’s FeastorThe Power of Musick. This was a monumental work spanning well over two hours of virtuosity. The work began with rich, warm sounds of the gut stringed violins, the sweet sounding baroque oboe, the energy of the dotted rhythmic figures, and playfully energetic melodies. From the overture onward, the choir, soloists and orchestra each contributed to a brilliant performance.
Alexander’s Feast is organized like Handel’s biblical oratorios with recitatives, arias and choruses, all sung in English. In addition, there are three orchestral numbers, an overture and two concertos, one for harp and the other for organ. The libretto tells the story of a feast in which Alexander the Great and his mistress Thaïs are celebrating the conquest of the Persian city of Persepolis. The musician Timotheus, by playing on his harp, elicits various emotions in Alexander culminating in his desire for revenge for his fallen soldiers. In the end, St. Cecilia arrives from heaven like a “deus ex machina” to save the day with her uplifting music.
Not withstanding the anachronism of a 4th century BC historical Greek ruthless leader being turned from his wickedness by the music of a 3rd century Christian saint, this is a piece of very English music drama in which the details do not matter. Cecilia to the English of Handel’s time was almost a Santa Claus figure who could perform her musical magic wherever it so pleased her. I first thought that her celebratory date of November 22nd might have been a more appropriate time for the work until I was informed that yesterday was indeed Handel’s birthday, his 333rd to be precise.
Ivars Taurens, the founding director of the Tafelmusik Baroque Choir led a superb cast of soloists, both vocal and instrumental.
Tafelmusik creates its own gold medal performance with Handel’s Alexander’s Feast!
Tenor Thomas Hobbs; Photo Credit: Benjamin Ealovega
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir with Director Ivars Taurins; Photo Credit: Sian Richards
Equally adept was English tenor Thomas Hobbs. Here was a Baroque master. The clarity of his singing in both recitatives and arias and his dramatic articulation made me want to hear him as the Evangelist in a Bach Passion.
Harp soloist Julia Seager-Scott and organ soloist Neil Cockburn both gave virtuosic performances in their concertos. Scott’s concerto, the only familiar music of the night was well balanced with the muted strings. Cockburn, who replaced Tafelmusik’s Charlotte Nediger on short notice gave robust energy to the Allegro section of his concerto.
The somewhat larger than usual orchestra with two natural horns, trumpet, two oboes and two bassoons, harpsichord, and seventeen strings balanced a well-prepared choir. The Tafelmusik Chamber Choir continues to impress with its secure and focused sound. Taurens had them well prepared. The audience saved its loudest applause for the choir, and deservedly so.
American soprano Amanda Forsythe showed why she is receiving accolades wherever she performs. Her sustained musical lines, trills, melismatic runs and huge leaps to the vocal stratosphere were thrilling.
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This was the first time in the 39 year history of Tafelmusik, that it has performed Alexander’s Feast. Last night, in Koerner Hall, I could imagine we were in Covent Garden Theatre in 1737 with Handel himself on the podium. The program will be repeated tonight and tomorrow, February 24th and 25th at Koerner Hall.
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir Director Ivars Taurins;
Photo Credit: Sian Richards
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra Director Elisa Citterio; Photo Credit: Sian Richards
It was less than a year ago that Toronto audiences heard baritone Alexander Dobson in his performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with Sir Andrew Davis leading the Toronto Symphony, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Huddersfield Choral Society. Dobson was brilliant then and perhaps even more so last night. His aria “Revenge, revenge” was incredibly powerful.
Soprano Amanda Forsythe; Photo Credit: Arielle Doneson
Alexander Dobson; Photo Credit: Melissa Tremblay