Tafelmusik Orchestra. With soprano Karina Gauvin. Rodolfo Richter, conductor. Koerner Hall. Repeats to March 26.
The first performance of Tafelmusik Orchestra’s “Baroque Diva” concert program at Koerner Hall on Thursday night was a many layered thrill.
The obvious thrill is Toronto-raised, Montreal-based soprano Karina Gauvin, who showed off her ever-deepening artistry, tremendous vocal range and technique, and considerable dramatic chops in opera arias by George Frideric Handel and a sacred work by Antonio Vivaldi.
Another thrill was the program itself, which interwove the vocal pieces with instrumental music led by Brazilian-British violinist Rodolfo Richter, in a welcome return to lead these period-instrument musicians. Although Gauvin is the most likely draw to fill Koerner Hall, Richter brings considerable talents of his own to the stage.
He proved, once again, to be an impressive soloist — and equal match to Gauvin in being able to draw many colours and impeccable musical lines from his instrument. He is not a dramatic or otherwise showy performer, but the music he brings forward is pure gold.
Richter is also a very able leader. The Tafelmusik Orchestra was in particularly fine form in a program that demanded tight ensemble playing as well as nimbleness. What Koerner Hall takes away in immediacy and intimacy from Tafelmusik’s concerts, it adds in a rich, burnished sound. Yet Richter was also able to help the assembled musicians fill the space with dramatic texture time after time.
The other thrill of the evening was the program itself. It is rare for a concert of any kind to feel as coherently curated as was the selection of works by Baroque greats Handel, Vivaldi, and Georg Philipp Telemann, as well as lesser-known German violinist and composer Johann Georg Pisendel, an exact contemporary of the other three, composing in the first half of the 18th–century.
The evening opened with some brand-new music, something that Tafelmusik does offer from time to time. The orchestra presented Colin Labadie’s Entwined: A Sesquie for Canada’s 150th, a fun but very thin piece of layered pattern music that is part of the mosaic of new works people are commissioning for this anniversary year.
Telemann, an underappreciated master, supplied the opening violin concerto, nicknamed the Frog. It opens with the strangest musical effect, a wobbly note that makes its way through the orchestral strings to simulate something like the noise frogs would make. It’s a bold stroke of whimsy that hides a very tightly structured work. The other work by Telemann was a concerto that gave Tafelmusik’s bassoon and oboes an opportunity to show off their artistry.
Gauvin sang an impossibly florid aria from Handel’s little-known opera Ezio to start — and ended with a thunderous finale drawn from Rinaldo. In between, the program erred on the side of serious music written in serious keys, including a church sonata and a church concerto by Pisendel, that gorgeous motet by Vivaldi, and the dramatically charged aria “Ah, mio cor” (Oh, My Heart) from Handel’s Alcina.
It was all edge-of-the-seat stuff, especially so when Gauvin unleashed her full dramatic repertoire in her portrayal of Handel’s sorceress Alcina.
The program repeats every day until Sunday. If you’re a vocal fan, be prepared for a pleasant surprise in the instrumental portion of the concert. It’s one of this season’s big treats.
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