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Ludwig Van
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SCRUTINY | Bohemian Composer Gets His Full Due At The Hands Of Tafelmusik

By John Terauds on April 29, 2016

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir perform with Director Ivars Taurins at Jeanne Lamon Hall (Photo: John Terauds)
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir perform with Director Ivars Taurins at Jeanne Lamon Hall (Photo: John Terauds)

Tafelmusik: Zelenka & Bach. Dorothee Mields (soprano) + Tafelmusik Vocal Competition Winners with Ivars Taurins (Director) at Jeanne Lamon Hall, April 28.

Yesteryear’s music from an also-ran composer made for an extraordinary concert on Thursday night at the hands of Tafelmusik Orchestra and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir under conductor Ivars Taurins at Jeanne Lamon Hall.

Performances of the season-concluding programme continue until Sunday — and are well worth catching for a number of reasons.

The biggest of many stars in the programme is the aforementioned also-ran composer: Bohemian-born Jan Dismas Zelenka, who lived and wrote music at the same time as J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Jean-Philippe Rameau, at the height of the Baroque period in the early decades of the 18th century.

Zelenka was the loser in the tussle of courtly politics in Dresden, and, in his final years, sat down to show why he didn’t deserve to be slighted. He poured every drop of creative ink he could muster into a set of grand Mass settings he knew could lever be performed in his lifetime. In 1741, four years before his death, Zelenka completed his Missa Omnium Sanctorum (Mass of All Saints), an hour-long extravaganza of orchestral and choral counterpoint interspersed with solo and ensemble arias.

This music, not often performed on this side of the Atlantic, is full of invention geared to wring the maximum effect from the text of the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass. Although Zelenka’s patrons in Dresden were fond of Italian-style music, Zelenka’s music has a compelling aesthetic all its own, brought to vivid life under Taurins’ direction.

We know that Zelenka never heard this music in his lifetime because there was a 45-minute limit on the length of Mass settings in Dresden, and his Missa Omnium Sanctorum lasts for more than an hour. Thursday night’s interpretation was so compelling that timing became immaterial.

Taurins, who must have the most awkward conducting manner in the charted universe, teases and turns and shapes a score like an absolute master. The period-instrument orchestra was in fine form, and the Chamber Choir, which always sings to the highest of standards, navigated Zelenka’s technical challenges (including ridiculously long held notes in the Benedictus section) with easy grace.

Visiting soloist, German soprano Dorothee Mields, was a treat. She brought a sure technique, impeccable phrasing and even a sense of sheer enjoyment to her performance, which included a solo turn in the program-opening Wedding Cantata, by J.S. Bach.

Traditionally, period-performance singers have tended to be better at expressing the nuances of Renaissance and Baroque music than at filling a concert hall with sound, but Mields managed to do both equally well.

The Zelenka Mass was also an opportunity for the organisation to showcase three winners of a vocal competition Tafelmusik held in January: Boston-based mezzo-soprano Kim Leeds, Quebec tenor Jacques-Olivier Chartier, and New York City baritone Jonathan Woody. All three did very nicely, with Chartier clearly demonstrating his background with Opéra de Montréal’s young artist program.

Zelenka may not have received his due while he was among the living, but he certainly is getting the red-carpet treatment at the hands of Tafelmusik. Don’t miss this.

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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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