An exciting season lies ahead for Tafelmusik and the HIP audiences of Toronto alike: some of the guest violinists/conductors we’ll be able to hear (if not all! they’re tactfully not revealing the names of the candidates) are actively being considered for the post of the new Music Director/First Violin.
The season opened on September 18 with Rodolfo Richter and the Handel Fireworks program, with a couple of festive, outdoorsy crowd-pleasers heavy on brass and woodwinds, the expected violin solo pyrotechnics piece, and two or three lesser known works. It’s the latter two that moved me the most last night, so I’ll begin there.
Corelli’s Concerto grosso in D Major, op. 6. no. 4 (1714) isn’t that often heard although it has a fairly well-known initial Allegro in which the first and the second violin josh in a sort of a call-and-response, a beautiful movement that can be played very differently by the different bands, depending on what kind of attack, balance, embellishments they go for. It can sound like a march of an even, fully-powered machine, or as a twirl of the spring winds, and last night’s performance was definitely of the flirting breezes kind. Richter and Christopher Verrette across the stage played together with great ease and it was a joy to eavesdrop on this conversation. Richter added a bit of brass to the concerto, to diversify the customarily strings-only sound, and it worked fine once the right balance was established (the brass and the woodwinds started off a little stronger than expected, but settled down in later movements). It was the beautiful piece of the program.
I expected Telemann’s Concerto for trumpet & violin in D Major to be on the pompous and ceremonious side—that’s what it sounds like on more than one recording–but this is what good musicians do: Richter performed it with such conviction that I had to leave the prejudgment behind. He put so much drama and vulnerable intensity in the second movement, Adagio, that there was no turning back: the final Allegro cemented the work as a piece that can seriously stir emotions. (The trumpet solo (John Thiessen) didn’t have a whole lot of flashy to do for the most part, other than act like a stoic subsumed partner to the solo violin.)
Handel’s Royal Fireworks piece was interesting in as much as it brought to the stage an unusual number of period brass players together with a percussionist. It’s the music that was meant to be played at a public fete with fireworks and I can listen to it as a historical curiosity only. On the upside, the wind instruments blended well with the Tafelstrings and there was pleasant melding—an accord–in the tone of the ensemble. I found myself in a similarly detached listening during Heinichen’s Serenata di Moritzburg, originally written to fill leisurely hours of an aristocratic ruler and today coming across as a piece of applied music, or flattery, or nobility marketing, even.
Vivaldi’s Il grosso Mogul concert, one of the composers most virtuoso creations, I expected to be dazzling in its pyrotechnics but a bit of a snooze otherwise (I keep thinking, whenever I hear it, This is just absurd… or, This is like the techno micro-variations—you lose interest after a while). But again Richter’s musicianship came to the rescue: he played “Mogul” as an intimate virtuoso piece—yes he wedded the two opposites—and while the pyrotechnics were all there, he seemed to have decided to tone down the volume (literally, too: the solo extravaganza cadenza was entirely played in about mezzo forte to piano) and engage the listener on a more profound level. What can I say? I won’t be giving up on “Mogul” just yet.
Rodolfo Richter and Tafelmusik repeat the program tonight, tomorrow Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st– more info and tickets. Don’t miss the Talkbacks after the concert, they’re informative and fun.