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SCRUTINY | Tafelmusik Brings A Deeply Reflective Messiah

By Michael Vincent on December 18, 2019

Tafelmusik Handel's Messiah
Tafelmusik performs Handel’s Messiah with Ivars Taurens at Koerner Hall, 2019. (Photo: courtesy of Tafelmusik/Facebook)

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir: Handel’s Messiah. Margot Rood (soprano), Lucile Richardot (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Hobbs (tenor), Peter Harvey (baritone). Ivar’s Taurins (director). At Koerner Hall, December 17, 2019.

Tafelmusik is a careful orchestra. Armed with the nuances of early instruments, their contribution to Toronto’s obsession with Handel’s Messiah offered a more thoughtful and reflective approach last night. The result was a fine interpretation of Charles Jennens’s morality tales by an orchestra that is clearly paying attention to the details.

The four soloists provided an unusual variety of flavours too. The most unusual was that of Alto Lucile Richardot, whose smouldering voice had no trouble filling a nearly sold-out Koerner Hall. Soprano Margot Bood’s voice did best at the heights of her register, and her technique was wonderfully fluid — especially in airs “Rejoice greatly” and “If God be for us”. Baritone Peter Harvey’s tone flattered the period orchestra. Still, he seemed to struggle at times with the pacing of the tightly wound tempi. Tenor Thomas Hobbs’ voice carried the text off the page with a warm and personable tone that impressed throughout. Most notable was his duet with Richardot, “O death, where is thy sting”. The phrasing carved a splendid figure that made the audience want to hear it all over again.

As with any Messiah, the choir pours out emotion with abandon. The chorus sections serve as the stars that light the soloist’s path forward, and the orchestra keeps the earth spinning.

The most impressive aspect to the performance was choir and orchestra — each kept in lockstep by Ivars Taurins — who’s conducting was most incredible for its attention to detail. My concern, however, was this attention seemed to tap the emotional aspect of Messiah.

It’s a trade-off that I appreciated for the level of excellence and craft that it requires, but comes at a cost. It works in stark contrast to the bigger is better approach brought by full modern orchestras equipped with vast armies of voices that stand aloft with impressive power.

The anecdote was the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. While it is the sopranos and altos that typically shine brightest, it was instead the tenors and basses that brought the light, especially in “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed”. The agility was breathtaking.

As per the tradition, The “Hallelujah Chorus” drew the pensive audience to their feet. It is said that Handel saw visions of angels, and wept while he composed the “Hallelujah”. No angles were seen by this critic, but Taurens’ approach was nevertheless instructive for its sober clarity.

A special mention goes out to Kathryn Adduci for her unaffected and notoriously exposed baroque trumpet work. Adduci’s playing was delicate and matched the spirit of Tafelmusik’s rigorous approach, which was no easy feat.

Messiah has become a tradition for its ability to unite us in the triumph of life. And with this triumph, Tafelmusik’s contribution to the annual holiday ritual continues to be a favourite.

For those who appreciate the more serene approach to Handel’s Messiah, Tafelmusik is your band this year.

Tafelmusik’s Messiah runs through December 20. Details found here.


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Michael Vincent
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