A Varied Program of Baroque Music Handled Royally by Tafelmusik

United StatesUnited States Veracini, Delalande, J. S. Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Marais: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, 17.3.2014

Veracini: Overture in G Minor
Delalande: “La grande piece royale”: Suite de symphonies pour le souper du roi, No. 7
J. S. Bach: Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor, BWV 1043
Handel: Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, Op. 3, No. 2
Vivaldi: Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos, Strings and Continuo, RV 531
Marais: Suite from Alcyone

A criticism leveled these days at some Baroque groups is their penchant for showing off: they seem to equate being historically informed with being histrionically informed. Aside from taking inordinately fast tempi, these groups often demonstrate to their disadvantage an ability to dance as they play, perhaps feeling that more than just playing the notes is required to keep the audience’s attention. No one really knew until Beethoven’s time and the invention of the metronome how fast an Allegro was or how slow an Adagio should be. But if the music is of interest, it doesn’t need extra adrenaline to make it convincing.

Tafelmusik has been performing Baroque music for over thirty years, and has never felt the need for excess. They have concentrated on perfecting their broad repertory not by training musicians to be virtuosi but more importantly by playing as members of one body producing one sound. Refined, gracious and elegant are words that come to mind.

The works programmed here were intelligently chosen from a cross section of Baroque music; none except the Bach double violin concerto is very well known. Each of the main styles of Baroque music was represented: Veracini and Vivaldi from Italy, Delalande and Marais from France, Bach from Germany and Handel from Germany through Italy to England.

Veracini’s Overture had its first Carnegie Hall performance last year at Zankel by the Venice Baroque Orchestra. At the time that I reviewed the concert I was not familiar with Veracini’s name, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of his work. If this piece weren’t entitled “Overture,” it could easily be taken as a concerto for two oboes with its traditional alternations between orchestral sections and solo oboe sections. This is even more prominent in the Largo. The final Allegro had tremendous energy as it rushed with a strong rhythmic drive to the conclusion. The oboists, John Abberger and Marco Cera, drew sweet and mellow sounds from their Baroque instruments, so different from the sharp metallic sound of the modern oboe. It makes it easy to understand why the oboe was a favorite of Louis XIV (and thus all the oboe music written for him).

The oboes, as well as the bassoon, are again prominent in the Delalande suite from “Music for the King’s Supper.” It’s only recently that an interest in the French Baroque has reawakened. This music had been thought of as simply so much pomp: frilly and decadent, written to please the greatest dandy of them all, Louis XIV. Attitudes have changed, particularly in the reevaluation of the operas of Lully.

It is apt that Tafelmusik chose Delalande’s piece which was written specifically to be played while royalty sat down at the table to eat. Telemann wrote a famous set of instrumental works which he could have named Tafelmusik, but he decided that “Musique de Tables” was more appropriate. Whatever the title, the performance here was lovely, enhanced by the excellent oboes and bassoon. The music would whet anyone’s appetite for more…music.

Bach’s double violin concerto is always interesting to see in a live performance. It is difficult when only hearing the work to discern which violin at any given moment has taken center stage. What was noticeable in this performance was the imbalance at times between Jeanne Lamon’s softer manner responding to the phrases of the more aggressive playing by Aisslinn Nosky. Perhaps this was planned as a way to distinguish the two instruments, but in any case watching both violins toss themes back and forth is one of the great pleasures of this concerto.

There are many great concerti in Handel’s two sets of six concerti, the Op. 3 and 6. The one performed here, Op. 3, No. 2, is noted for its lyrical Largo highlighted by its solo oboe. It also has a grand and complex third movement Allegro with fugal voices interrupted by unexpected fortes.

The Vivaldi concerto for two celli opens in an atypical fashion: the two solo celli play the concertino role first with the orchestral ripieno not appearing for ten measures, reversing the usual orchestra first, soloist(s) second template. Again, as mentioned above in regard to the Bach double violin concerto, there was an imbalance between the two instrumental soloists, with Christina Mahler considerably more aggressive than her counterpart Allen Whear. Nonetheless, this was exciting Vivaldi and amazing cello work from both.

The Suite from Marais’s Alcyone opens with the classic Lullian Ouverture: a short beginning of double dotted notes, a middle section based on a brief fugal theme and a repetition of the opening section. The selection of dances omitted the famous tempest scene which requires tympani, but did include a Chaconne with its imaginative variations on a repeated bass line, ending with a repeat of the opening theme. The closing Tambourins had to settle not unpleasantly for Allen Whear striking his cello as a substitute for a tambourine. A movement from Handel’s Op. 6 Concerto Grossi was the encore of this thoroughly pleasing concert.

Stan Metzger



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