House program; Photo credit: Andrew Eusebio

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir hosts a joyous 35th birthday celebration!

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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 3rd 2016

Many years ago while I was a student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, the point was made with pride that there was finally a professional choir and full-time professional choral conductor in Canada. In those days, the role of a choral conductor was to work with amateurs whether in churches, schools or the community. Those days are long gone. With professional choirs in most regions of the country, and with three working out of the GTA, the bar has been raised to new levels of competence and artistic expression. These professional choirs are able to take on challenges beyond the reach of amateurs.

Last night’s concert by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul Centre was a great example of the finest in music requiring the skills, expertise and commitment of consummate professionals. The concert was a joyous celebration of thirty-five years of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir under the direction of Ivars Taurins. As he recently said, “Music…can stir up concrete emotions within us.” And that’s exactly what happened in this concert.

At first glance the programme of relatively unknown works by five Baroque composers without the name of Bach included among the five, seemed like a mysterious way to celebrate. Taurins has been finding such works throughout the choir’s history with magical results. By specializing in the music of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries with historically informed performances, the choir has combined intellectual understanding with emotional impact. Last night, the concert became the embodiment of Love, Joy, Bliss, and Awe, the theme of this year’s Tafelmusik series..

The programme began with Handel’s Laudate Pueri Dominum, a celebratory cantata he wrote while in Rome. The virtuosic work was operatic in its demands on the soloist, orchestra and choir. Soprano Sheherezade Panthaki had breathtaking technique in her melismatic sections and her voice soared in its upper range. The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra provided a broad range of colour in its accompaniment role in each of the diverse movements that included styles such as concerto grosso, trio sonata, and ritornello. The textures were at times warmly expressive and at others joyously uplifting. There were even hints of Handel’s Messiah in the “Amen” of the final movement.

Agostino Steffani’s Stabat Mater changed the mood to one of devotion with long expressive musical lines telling the story of Mary’s sorrow as she watched Jesus die on the cross. The tonal beauty and virtuosity of soloists soprano Michele DeBoer, counter-tenor Simon Honeyman, tenor Cory Knight and bass Joel Allison, complimented the extraordinary expressiveness of the choir. From the grief conveyed throughout the work came a bright ray of hope in the final “Paradisi gloria” sung with the finest in choral-orchestral joy.

The first half concluded with more joyous celebration in Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Chaconne from his opera Amadis. Tenor Philippe Gagné and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody joined soprano Sheherezade Panthaki to add brilliant colour and drama to the operatic finale.

While the first half of the concert was dominated by Italian influenced music from the turn of the eighteenth century, the second half comprised two operatically influenced works with French and German-roots written decades later. Jean Philippe Rameau’s motet for choir, soloists and orchestra In convertendo Dominus was as expressive as one could imagine. Taurins brought out the nuance of meaning in every phrase. Once again Panthaki, Gagné and Woody both in solos and together, demonstrated why they are each in demand internationally for historically informed performances; they sang with intelligence, virtuosity and expressiveness. 

Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Gloria  from Missa dei Filii  concluded the programme with nine minutes of heavenly sonorities. This long-time favourite of the Tafelmusik Choir exhibited a dance-like abandon in both the vocal and instrumental music. Soloists from within the choir once again displayed particularly beautiful tone and technique. The celebration couldn’t have had a more uplifting conclusion.

For thirty-five years the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir has specialized in the finest 17th and 18th century music. Through their artistry, we have been transported to the majestic courts and great churches of Europe to hear music composed and performed for royalty by the greatest musicians of that age. Taurins says he looks forward to continuing to share his fascination for many years to come. Tafelmusik is indeed a rare musical gem of which Toronto audiences are the fortunate beneficiaries.

Last night’s programme will be repeated at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul Centre with four additional performances through November 6. Tafelmusik’s annual Messiah will take place December 14-18 at Koerner Hall.

Choir Director and Founder Ivars Taurins with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir 
Photo credit: Trevor Haldenby ​