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

Toronto’s Tafelmusik is internationally known for its historically authentic performance of music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The ensemble uses period instruments and follows the performance practices of the time. The results over forty years have been impressive, and the performance and leadership of their new director, Elisa Citterio, have elevated their already high standard of playing.

This season opens with an extension of the orchestra’s repertoire into period performance of nineteenth-century music. Generally, players and listeners have tended to overlook the requirements of historically informed performance of nineteenth-century music, thinking (a bit lazily) that it is close enough to the music of our own time that there must be little difference. But that is not the case, and last night’s audience had the special opportunity to listen to a “period orchestra” interpret the music of Tchaikovsky.

Further, we were treated to Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from his music opus 61 for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, arranged by the director’s brother Carlo Citterio. The playing was admirably clear. There was also the premiere of a work entitled Pyotr’s Dream by Winnipeg composer Andrew Balfour. It alluded to Tchaikovsky and was inspired by one of his works, though written in a neo-Baroque style.

​​by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
oronto ON September 20th 2019

Elisa Citterio and Tafelmusik take a bow at Koerner Hall following their season opener, Tafelmusik meets Tchaikovsky; Photo credit: Seanna Kennedy;

Violinists Elisa Citterio Laura Andriani, Julia Wedman, Cristina Zacharias, and
Nicholas Robinson at Tafelmusik's opening concert of the 2019/20 season
Photo credit: Seanna Kennedy;

Baroque strings wax Romantic: Tafelmusik performs Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky

First on the program was an untitled symphony movement by Mendelssohn, very much in the style of a French overture but without the double dots. The playing was very clear in the imitative, fast section. Koerner Hall affords the audience a transparent acoustic, even with 21 string players performing at top speed.

Next came Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor for Strings. Throughout the evening Citterio took the role of ‘leader’, playing and ‘conducting’ with good rhythmic energy and keeping in close contact with the rest of the ensemble, this in accord with the practice of the time. In this work and throughout the evening, Citterio’s brisk tempi made for strong musical rhetoric.

After intermission, we heard Balfour’s new work, commissioned by Tafelmusik. It was unhurried, sometimes with graceful passages, and at other moments with expressive dissonance.

Elisa Citterio and Tafelmusik bring down the house with their first concert
of the 19/20 season, which includes music by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky,
​and Andrew Balfour; Photo credit: Seanna Kennedy;

The program concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, opus 48, composed in 1880. It was this piece that Citterio and the ensemble had prepared most deliberately for period performance. The group undertook a special retreat at which they listened to wax recordings of late nineteenth-century performances and exchanged ideas on how to approach the work. The music itself sounded in the style of ballet, as though there was a lost, detailed libretto by the choreographer Petipa; indeed Balanchine choreographed this work. The performance had the elasticity of the tempo for which they were aiming, and overall it had an unusual lightness, just as, when the dirt and grime were cleaned off Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and we saw it with the lively colours and vibrancy, our impression of the painting was very different. The lightness brought out qualities in Tchaikovsky’s music that are not often heard. Indeed at some point in the performance I realized that I had forgotten that Tafelmusik is specialized in the Baroque period, so fully were the players immersed in the late Romantic idiom of the Russian master.

I hope we may hear more performances like this. It is an excellent, exciting start to the season.  Tafelmusik’s next concert entitled Baroque Roots will take place at 7pm on Wednesday October 16th, 8pm on Thursday October 17th, Friday October 18th and Saturday October 19th, and 3:30pm on Sunday October 20th in Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.