It was the age of instruments: new manufacturing, greater demand, music written for specific instruments, new combinations of instruments, the basso continuo, the start of functional bass harmony and tonality, virtuoso players, and new instrumental genres and forms, and it all came alive vividly and beautifully in the remarkable concert produced by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Feb. 9-11, a must-hear event. Recorder virtuoso Alison Melville began the evening with an instrumental song by Jacob van Eyck, early Baroque carilloner, bell tuner, and composer of recorder music in Utrecht, and ended the night with a masterful performance of a concerto for recorder by Vivaldi. She used four different recorders, two with nearly cylindrical bores, two with conical bores that were the hallmark of the baroque period in sound and shape, one of the instruments a replica of a recorder made in the environs of the Telemann quartet that she performed with the ensemble.

​​The program was well set out, featuring different kinds of concerti by Vivaldi and Telemann. Bassoonist Dominic Teresi was one of the virtuosi of the night, executing difficult runs and passages at top speed with Melville on recorder. How did he not become tongue-tied? The concert featured ‘broken consorts,’ combinations of instruments that would not have been heard in the renaissance. The recorder (a low, or soft instrument) was opposed to loud (high) instruments (bassoon, oboe, the French hautbois meaning high, or loud woodwind). From the start of the period the definition of concerto had to do with a contest or competition of performers, and compete they did.

Vivaldi’s well known Spring was given an excellent performance, featuring especially the ensemble’s new director, Elisa Citterio, whose energetic playing thrilled the audience throughout the event, and whose leadership drove the ensemble to great heights. Brilliant harpsichordist Stefano Demicheli, director of his own period ensemble in Italy, was a last-minute substitute, and carried the evening on continuo with vigorous rhythm and strong chords. He was accompanied by Lucas Harris on a lute with a neck so long it seemed to menace the cellist, and at times by the double bass, and even the bassoon.

The preferred texture of the period was a strong, chordal bass underneath dueling high instruments, freed from the need to sound the notes of the harmonies by the continuo, and therefore able to execute soaring melodies.

Perhaps the most moving point of the evening was the performance of the chaconne, the bass pattern driving the harmony, and the high instruments executing variations of all kinds above it. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra is justly known for its diligent, authentic reconstructions of the music of this period. My one wish (and there was only one) was for the use of notes inégales in some passages. This Baroque convention of performing a long line of eighth notes unequally, as pairs of short and long notes as triplets,  gives a light and sparkling effect. 

Catch Recorder Romp while you can. It will be repeated in Trinity-St.Paul's Centre February 9-11. You will be glad you did! On February 22-25Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins will feature Handel's Alexander’s Feast in Koerner Hall.


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Alison Melville; Photo courtesy of Tafelmusik

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra's 'Recorder Romp'

Review by Paul Merkley

​Toronto ON February 9th 2018

Tafelmusik's Recorder Romp excels!