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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Concert review: Tafelmusik Messiah soloists come up a little bit short of exalted standard

By John Terauds on December 19, 2012

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir sing the Hallalujah Chorus in Handel's Messiah at Koerner Hall on Wednesday night (John Terauds iPhone photo).
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir sing the Hallalujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah at Koerner Hall on Wednesday night (John Terauds iPhone photo).

For many years now, Tafelmusik’s annual Messiah has been the standard not only for everyone in Toronto, but for the wider world. This has created expectations that were not necessarily met by Wednesday night’s first performance at Koerner Hall.

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.

There are so many factors that go into a great performance of such an iconic work.

George Frideric Handel’s greatest oratorio has been thrilling audiences around the world over for 270 years. The music itself — its succession of evocative recitatives, arias and choruses that help tell the tale of Christian redemption — is immortal.

But that’s only the beginning of greatness.

Tafelmusik’s historically informed style, long led by conductor Ivars Taurins, is magnetic. The 24 period instrumentalists become part of a great kaleidoscope of shifting colours and textures. The 24-member Tafelmusik Chamber Choir gives the choruses a transparency that highlights Taurins’ detailed and astute work with phrasing and dynamics.

But for everything to be truly right, the soloists have to be up to this same exalted standard. Unfortunately, three of the four did not fully live up to it.

The sole Canadian among the quartet is mezzo Allyson McHardy, who has a honeyed voice that is pure seduction. But on Wednesday night, she sang her solos with a distinct lack of expression and conviction. The notes and the words were there, but little else.

The two young American men alongside her — tenor Aaron Sheehan and bass-baritone Douglas Williams — also have great voices and sang well, but lacked spark and sparkle.

Only British soprano Joanne Lunn delivered the whole package, with a voice as clear and pure as a mountain stream and a level of expression and craft equal to what the orchestra and choruses were giving their audience.

The sold-out houses for the rest of Tafelmusik’s 2012 Messiah run have a lot to look forward to but, in a startling reversal of past seasons, it is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s interpretation that has all the real sparkle this Christmas.

John Terauds

 

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
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