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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Tafelmusik's Messiah Shows Its Sensitive Side

By David Podgorski on December 14, 2017

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins, with soloists Simon Honeyman, countertenor (left) and Rufus Müller, tenor. (Photo: Jeff Higgins)
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins, with soloists Simon Honeyman, countertenor (left) and Rufus Müller, tenor. (Photo: Jeff Higgins)

Tafelmusik: Handel’s Messiah at Koerner Hall. Dec. 13 – 16, 2017. See our Datebook Calendar for showtimes.

Let us now praise Messiah. Along with other cultural traditions throughout December, George Frederic Handel’s Messiah remains on the program year-after-year as the one concert audiences are determined — or will make time — to see. And while Handel’s Messiah gets its fair share of ribbing for being the concert in December that will never go away, I feel that it’s time to give Messiah its due as one of the great classics of Western music.

And I do mean “classic” in every sense of the word. Since its debut performance in 1741, performances of Messiah have been heard at least once a year throughout the English-speaking world to this day, making it the oldest piece of music anywhere that never left the performing repertoire. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is another classic, but it needed to be revived a century later by Mendelssohn: Messiah never needed reviving at all by anyone: it was never in danger of dying.

As performances of a contemporary classic go, casual concert-goers and avid classical music fans could do far worse than Tafelmusik’s version of the oratorio, as last night’s performance showed us. For starters, the group plays in Koerner Hall, which has a clear acoustic advantage over Roy Thomson Hall. While only about 20 players on stage (we’ll get to the soloists and chorus in a bit), the little group has no trouble filling the space. If you’re a believer in historical authenticity and think you can hear a live group playing the piece exactly as Handel wanted it to be heard, Tafelmusik has you covered there too — they have exactly the right hardware for the job, including gut strings, harpsichord, baroque trumpets, and historically correct kettle drums. You can even see a performance with conductor Ivars Taurins in traditional early music cosplay and sing along with the choruses if you so choose, although you’ll have to wait for the December 17 show at Massey Hall for that one.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins. (Photo: Jeff Higgins)
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins. (Photo: Jeff Higgins)

It’s also fun to hear Tafelmusik’s interpretation of Handel’s best-known piece. The band clearly has no problem playing any of it, as one would expect if they’ve played it every year for the past 25 years, but if last night’s performance was any indication, they can still bring all the emotional highs and lows that the two and a half hour oratorio demands. The soloists delivered the arias with operatic verve, particularly soprano Joanne Lunn’s tear-jerking performance of “I know that my Redeemer liveth” and bassist Brett Polegato’s gladiatorial rendition of “The trumpet shall sound.” (Polegato won.)

The real star of Tafelmusik’s Messiah, though, was the chorus. One can only speculate whether the most successful opera seria composer of all time viewed writing for choir as a refreshing creative challenge, or resented it as a market-driven necessity, but the Tafelmusik choir showed the composer’s ingenuity throughout the evening, with precise and engaging versions of “For unto us,” “And the Glory,” and yes, the “Hallelujah” chorus. Tradition, especially holiday tradition, is a fine thing; it’s a finer thing still to make tradition this enjoyable.

#LUDWIGVAN

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David Podgorski

David Podgorski

Dave Podgorski is harpsichordist and co-founder of Rezonance, a Toronto-based early music ensemble. As well as being a performer, Dave is also a music teacher and scholar of music history. He specializes in Seventeenth-Century music from France and Italy as well as the keyboard works of JS Bach.
David Podgorski
David Podgorski

David Podgorski

Dave Podgorski is harpsichordist and co-founder of Rezonance, a Toronto-based early music ensemble. As well as being a performer, Dave is also a music teacher and scholar of music history. He specializes in Seventeenth-Century music from France and Italy as well as the keyboard works of JS Bach.
David Podgorski
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BREAKING | Montreal Symphony Orchestra Launch Investigation Amid New Allegations Against Charles Dutoit

By Michael Vincent on December 24, 2017

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra has announced the launch of a formal internal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment during Charles Dutoit's 25-year reign as Music Director of the MSO between 1977 and 2002.
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SCRUTINY | Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Candide Kicks Off the Bernstein Centenary

By Robin Roger on December 29, 2017

Technically speaking, Leonard Bernstein’s centenary year begins at midnight Sunday night, but by then Toronto Operetta Theatre will be well ahead of the pack of homage-payers, after three performances of Bernstein’s idiosyncratic work of genius, Candide.
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LEBRECHT LISTENS | Ending The Year With Ralph Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel

By Norman Lebrecht on December 29, 2017

Tenor James Gilchrist's take on Ralph Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel is the perfect fare for the last days of the year.
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