Tafelmusik’s extensive musical range, depth of insight in historical performance, diversity in repertoire, and skill in execution knows no bounds. They can do what other Canadian ensembles do not and dare not. Having amassed a devoted and fascinated following, they enjoy the freedom of performing whatever they wish. For example, the upcoming 2019-2020 season features the Baroque Orchestra, directed by Elisa Citterio, performing Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn. They’re premiering new Canadian works, rearranging the Bach’s Goldberg Variations for orchestra, and dedicating entire concerts to relatively unknown composers like Antonio Lotti. Their Close Encounters Chamber Music Series is no different; from composers like Antonio Bertali to Johann Rosenmüller, their creative programming and sensitive approach to music making made for a truly unforgettable afternoon. 

To be perfectly frank, the two violins (masterfully played by Patricia Ahern and Christopher Verrette) on stage were the only familiar sight on stage. With Charlotte Nediger playing a harpsichord sans lid (which actually features a different key for flats and for sharps), Dominic Teresi on dulcian (the predecessor of the modern bassoon), and Lucas Harris on theorbo (a lute-like plucked instrument with an extended neck and second peg box), the quintet launched into Antonio Bertali’s Sonata in A minor. As Dominic Teresi explains after the first piece, the Fantasticus style of the 17th Century was anything but structured. In fact, the word ‘Sonata’ itself, derived from the Italian sonare, meant anything but the 18th-19th Century’s idea of form and organisation. Instead, it was used to depict the difference between instrumental music that was to be played as opposed to cantatas that were sung. Bertali’s Sonata was demonstrative of this - flowing and dance-like at times, connected by lamenting sections that highlighted the expressive qualities of the strings.

Johann Caspar Kerll and Giovanni Battista Fontana’s sonatas delved deeper into the Fantastic style of contrast and dialogue. After a tutti introduction, each violinist would take their turn performing a solo improvisation with an accompanying instrument (either the harpsichord or the theorbo). Full of virtuosity and freedom, these sections would be sandwiched by tutti sections that used a noble and major tonality with highly expressive suspensions. Here, Ahern and Verrette blazed with energetic passagework and were filled with nuance at the slower and sighing slow sections. It was also an immense pleasure hearing the dulcian too. Serving not only as a bass continuo but also as a vehicle of expression, the dulcian in the hands of Teresi was wistful, resonant, and blended beautifully with the ensemble.

Next in this 60 minute program was a Toccata arpeggiate for solo theorbo by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, which served as a delicate and meditative prelude to Johann Henrich Shmelzer’s Polmische Sackpfeifen (Polish Bagpipes). Harris’s interpretation of the Toccata was breathtaking and captured the colour spectrum of this instrument. In his hands, the timbre of the theorbo was effervescent when soft and in the higher registers but carried more projection and grunt when the lower strings were engaged. In contrast, Schmelzer’s piece was filled with jest and parody, as it was his intention to mimic Polish Folk tunes and the Polish bagpipes’ rendition of these tunes.

To conclude the program, the musicians of Tafelmusik chose a piece each by Bagio Marini (a L’Aguzzona, from Op. 1Affetti musicali), Dario Castello (a Sonata seconda for violin and continuo), and Johann Rosenmüller (Sonata Quarta) as these three composers were all employed by St. Mark’s Basilica and linked to the Venetian School of the early Baroque period. They were also present at a time when the violin was undergoing changes not only in its manufacture but also in its use as an instrument of the church. In terms of structure, however, these pieces sustained the style of the Fantasticus. The L’Aguzzona of Marini begins slowly but soon accelerates into a gallop that would abruptly pause for a dulcian solo before picking back up from where it left off. At the cusp of the development of instrumental music, Castello did not hold back in his Sonata seconda, which sees Patricia Ahern on the violin performing very virtuosic passagework and highly impassioned phrases with bravura and sensitivity. The freedom here lies in its changes of moods and characters, corresponding to the many quick movements in tonality. For the finale, the quintet of musicians from Tafelmusik gather once more for Rosenmüller’s Sonata Quarta. What’s remarkable about this work is the composer’s use of three 4 part fugal sections that organize the piece. Interspersed between each fugal section, there is a dance, a tragic lamentation, and a short curtsy. Though still free in its overall form, the sections are marked more clearly and one begins to foresee the makings of the Baroque structures that make up the many beloved pieces by Bach and Handel that the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir produce ever so successfully.

There seems to be nothing that Tafelmusik will not or cannot do. This concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity marked 40 years since Tafelmusik first presented concerts in Toronto and it does not seem like they will ever run out of works to perform for at least another 40 years. The expertise and knowledge in style and their commitment to the emotional content of the music permits one to experience these works of art as though one is transported back in time. Whilst many attend concerts to hear pieces of music they know well performed live, listeners of Tafelmusik have that opportunity (by going to their annual Handel Messiah or Bach Passion concerts) but can also easily enjoy pieces of music they’ve never heard of and may never have the chance to hear again.Catch

Close Encounters: Fantasticus again at the Temerty Theatre, TELUS Centre at the Royal Conservatory of Music on Saturday May 25th 2019.

Charlotte Nediger (harpsichord), Christopher Verrette(violin), Patricia Ahern (violin), Lucas Harris(theorbo), Dominic Teresi(dulcian); Photo credit: Chris Au

​​by Chris Au
oronto ON May 23rd 2019


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Tafelmusik’s Close Encounters: A Fantastic(us) Feast

Charlotte Nediger (harpsichord), Christopher Verrette(violin), Patricia Ahern (violin), Lucas Harris(theorbo), Dominic Teresi(dulcian); Photo credit: Chris Au