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Concert review: Violinist Rachel Podger lights up Tafelmusik's Baroque celebration

By John Terauds on May 3, 2012

Guest violinist and leader Rachel Podger.

English violinist Rached Podger exhibited an intoxicating combination of power and grace as she led Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in a programme of music by J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Georg Philippp Telemann at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre on Thursday night — the second in a series of concerts that runs to Sunday afternoon.

One of the joys of small period-performance ensembles is seeing a soloist also take on the role of leader or conductor. When all the parts of a programme align properly, it can make for powerfully unified performances, as was the case at this week’s Tafelmusik Baroque celebration.

The tidy programme was bookended by Bach favourites, the well-worn Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042, and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, BWV 1049, which allocates solo duties to the violin as well as two recorders.

In the Brandenburg Concertos, Bach was laying out every trick in his book to win the favour of a potential patron. In this particular piece, virtuosity is a necessity from everyone involved. And one of the beauties of Podger’s Toronto début was hearing how all the technical requirements could be tossed off with panache, while also imbuing the music with uncommon grace.

Equal credit went to the recorder soloists, Torontonian Alison Melville and Montrealer Matthias Maute, who proved to be Podger’s equals in every respect.

Two other works, both by Telemann, took advantage of multiple soloists: a magical Concerto for Three Violins, from Book II of his Tafelmusik pieces, in which Podger, Julia Wedman and Cristina Zacharias interwove their gorgeous violin parts like flowered garlands; and a Concerto for Recorder and Flute in E Minor, where Melville and Maute dazzled with their seamless interplay.

The second piece is a strange one, sounding floridly Italianate in in its first three movements, then turning into a rollicking 18th century barn dance in its final Allegro.

Although all 17 people on stage were clearly having a wonderful time throughout the concert, this Allegro turned the evening into a party.

Vivaldi’s contribution to the fun was a Violin Concerto in A Major that showed off much colourful interplay between soloist and ensemble.

Throughout, Podger was an expressive treat, leading the players in interpretations that combined strong phrasing held aloft with rhythmic vigour.

Simply put, this is Baroque instrumental music at its very finest — an experience well worth sharing.

For further information on the remaining concert dates, click here.

John Terauds

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