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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Concert review: For Tafelmusik this week is all about the great new sound of Jeanne Lamon Hall

By John Terauds on October 4, 2013

Tafelmusik and their guest leader, violinist Manfredo Kraemer, in the newly christened Jeanne Lamon Hall on Friday night (John Terauds phone photo).
Tafelmusik and their guest leader, Argeninean violinist Manfredo Kraemer, in the newly christened Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre on Friday night (John Terauds phone photo).

This is a special week in Tafelmusik’s history, as the period-instrument orchestra inaugurates its new-old performance space with a series of concerts featuring the music of baroque-era Vienna and Salzburg.

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.
John Terauds

I feel a little sorry for visiting Argentinean violinist Manfredo Kraemer, who very ably led a crackling programme of Austrian curiosities, which has repeat performances to Sunday afternoon. The poor man is completely overshadowed by the orchestra’s new sound.

Well, it’s not so much the orchestra’s new sound as the effect a renovated interior at Trinity-St Paul’s Church is having on what the audience is hearing.

As part of a projected $3 million makeover of the building, Tafelmusik and its contractors have overseen an acoustic retrofit as well as the installation of comfortable new seating on the ground floor of the church’s worship space, now known as Jeanne Lamon Hall.

Even though the acoustician behind the makeover is Bob Essert, the brains behind the excellent acoustics at the Four Seasons Centre as well as Koerner Hall, the basic horseshoe shape and multi-vaulted ceiling from the 19th century Methodist church are unchangeable, which kept my acoustical expectations low.

But the audible reality is spectacular.

New hardwood floors, textured hardwood side panels and a new, permanent stage on the ground floor have allowed the orchestra’s sound to bloom right across the spectrum, from the highest violin notes, to heel-tickling low notes from the double-bass and portatif organ.

It is the aural equivalent of seeing a video screen in colour after having spent several hours watching something in black-and-white.

Alison Mackay, Tafelmusik’s lone bassist for the vast majority of concerts, sounded as if there were four of her. The violas, usually buried in a confluence of mid frequencies, were as clear as the violins. The bassoon, oboes and the cellos were present like never before in this space.

It made for a vivid, engaging musical experience, further augmented by a programme of pieces by Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741) Heinrich Biber (1644-1704), Johann Schmelzer (1620-1680), Philipp Jakob Rittler (1637-1690) and Georg Muffat (1653-1704) that put the emphasis on fun and frolic.

Never before have I seen and heard duelling cellists, lobbing simulated gunshots at each other by heavily plucking strings on their instruments.

This programme and Kraemer’s intense, virtuosic leadership, are reasons enough to catch this Tafelmusik programme. But Jeanne Lamon Hall is so much a star in its own right, that it needs to be heard to be believed.

This is great news for Tafelmusik and its audiences, as well as for all the other people who use this space, including Toronto Consort, the Talisker Players (who will also be able to take advantage of a new grand piano), and Soundstreams, among others.

Is the sound ideal? It’s too early to tell. I found the violin sound on Friday to be a bit too strident, but we have to remember that Tafelmusik has spent the 34 years of its existence playing in a space where the string players had to push their sound out to the audience.

These violinists now have to learn how to play the renovated hall like a brand-new instrument, so it will likely take a couple more concert programmes before we actually hear Jeanne Lamon Hall and its principal musical tenant at their very best.

For all the details on this week’s programme, click here.

John Terauds

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.
John Terauds
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