September is a great time for music in Toronto. With each musical organization’s opening night, there is excitement and expectation in the air. Amateur choirs have been holding their first rehearsals. The billboard announcing the fall operas are up on the Four Seasons Centre. Full houses can be anticipated at the various opening night performances. No exception to this opening frenzy, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s 2016/17 season was launched with Handel’s ultimate party piece, Water Music, almost 299 years after it was first performed for King George I’s big bash on the River Thames.
A special guest often goes hand-in-hand with big openings and for Tafelmusik, it was the return of Italian violinist Elisia Citterio as director of last night’s performance at Koerner Hall. She brought energy and joy to each of the works on the program inspiring brilliant ensemble playing by our world renowned baroque orchestra. Her own playing in solo passages was stunningly beautiful. As Tafelmusik completes its search for a music director to replace long-time Director Jeanne Lamon, we can only hope that Citterio is given every consideration.
The year 1717 was not a particularly notable one on the world stage. Yes, the Triple Alliance between France, England and the Dutch Republic was signed; there was a horrific winter of blizzards in north eastern North America; a siege of Belgrade by Austrian troops took place; and a calamitous flood in the Netherlands and an earthquake in Guatamala rounded out the year’s news. It was indeed fortunate for the musical world that George I was not a very popular king and needed a party to reclaim some good will. Handel’s Water Music did the job as hundreds of boats followed him down the Thames and back with the tide through the night until early morning.
Last night’s performance didn’t last quite that long. In fact, the wonderful sounds of this orchestra seemed to end all too soon. As a prelude to the main event, there were two contemporary works of the day, J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major BWV 1069 and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s dances from Les Indes galantes.
Bach became the Capellmeister in Cöthen in 1717, the year of Water Music, and wrote at least four orchestral suites during his time there. Opening with a shout-out of trumpets and timpani, the work sparkled with lively dances, a truly jubilant opening to the programme. Domenic Teresi’s rhapsodic bassoon work along with some oboe passages by the trio of oboists were uplifting. The final movement, Réjouissance had wonderful rhythmic energy with trumpet and timpani performances adding to the jubilant finale.
Rameau in 1717 was an organist at the cathedral in Clermont and was at work on his treatise on harmony. It was only later in Paris that he wrote his opéra-ballet Les Indes Gallants. The orchestra performed the exotic dances from this work with spirit, imitating a native dance in one movement and a sailors’ dance in another.
Nevertheless it was Handel’s Water Music that the audience came for. The collection of entertaining dances did not disappoint. An expanded orchestra created all the energy of a celebration. Scott Weavers and Ron George were superb on their natural horns as was Alison Melville on flute and recorder. The orchestra, on its feet throughout the performance, was close to dancing. The familiar Alla Hornpipe and Country Dances were toe-tappingly joyful.
Tafelmusik continues to deserve its lofty place in the world of historical performance practice. It is not resting on the laurels of its abundant award-winning recordings and history of touring the world. In 2016-17, they will forge ahead with an inspirational season of concerts in Toronto; a tour of the US, China and Korea; a release of the long-anticipated Beethoven’s 9th recording; a new multi-media production by Alison Mackay; and a celebratory Canadian tour. It continues and to be the baroque orchestra in residence at the University of Toronto and operates annual artist training programmes, Tafelmusik Summer Institute, and Tafelmusik Winter Institute.
The next concert programme in Toronto, The Eloquent Cello, will take place at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, October 5-9. It will be guest directed by cellist Christophe Coin.
Guest director and violinist Elisa Citterio with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
Photo credit: Trevor Halenby
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON September 24th 2016
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