Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra with Elisa Citterio. At Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Wednesday, Oct. 12. Continues Oct. 13–15. Details here.
Tafelmusik’s musical series for October, Elisa’s Italian Adventure, played on new music director Elisa Citterio’s Italian heritage. But besides being a celebration of Italian music over three centuries, it showed off both Citterio and the group as an ensemble that can play the span of the early and late Baroque, as well as different national styles.
While the group’s seasonal debut featured Baroque composers more familiar to classical music listeners (Rameau, Corelli, Handel, Vivaldi) the purportedly nationalistic program October 11 showed off a varied group of composers who, despite claiming a common heritage in Italy, moved in completely unique artistic directions, and allowed the group to show off Citterio’s musical chops in numerous different musical situations.
Early in the program, we heard Citterio as a chamber player, in a triptych of sonatas by early Seventeenth-Century composers Giovanni Battista Fontana, Biagio Marini, and Dario Castello. The early baroque demands its own esoteric virtuosity, something Citterio, aided by soloists Thomas Georgi and Dominic Teresi, was able to pull off with ease. Besides a fine chamber performance, the group took a few musical risks, including an improvised solo by lutenist Lucas Harris that cleverly ended on the dominant of the next piece in the program and an ex tempore violin solo by Citterio that covered the transition from one chamber group to another and let the audience hear that besides playing prepared material, classical musicians can indeed improvise.
There were also a few pieces that showed the group is prepared to unearth a few musical rarities — and some odd ones at that. A particular pair of gems in the evening’s performance were suites by Agostino Steffani and Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, two composers who aren’t at all well-known today, but were capable of imitating French music in the style of Lully (and given the fashion for Versailles in the Eighteenth Century, were probably required to by their patrons. Not typically the group’s strong suit, Tafelmusik gave a surprisingly precise and endearing performance of both these esoteric composers, and the dance movements were some of the finest moments of the program.
Not about to let anyone go home without at least one familiar piece from the classical canon, the evening concluded with two concertos by Antonio Vivaldi, including Vivaldi’s “Autumn” from the Four Seasons. As a soloist, Citterio was clearly in her element, and besides tossing off the concerto with ease, is prepared to have some fun with it on stage. Citterio chose to take the ritornello in the first movement with a cheeky pizzicato cadence followed by a single note wavering and dying off, and comically played the role of hunted animal surrounded by hostile forces in the third. This wasn’t just goofing around for its own sake — she clearly read the accompanying poems and knows exactly what the composer is trying to depict in the music.
Citterio is quickly establishing her reputation on the musical scene in Toronto and North America, and it’s clear this concert was meant to tick a few boxes. In an artful way, and with a thoughtful program, she showed she can be a soloist with technical prowess and sensitivity, play chamber music and direct a continuo band, and lead a full orchestra in difficult repertoire.
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