Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra - Gloria in excelsis Deo







In a veritable sea of indistinguishable, carbon-copy Baroque orchestras and choruses, Tafelmusik has distinguished itself for nearly 30 years as head and shoulders above most of its competitors. This CD is an excellent example of why. From the very first notes of Bach’s Cantata No. 191, rarely performed in this configuration because all three movements wereTafelmusik Baroque Orchestra later reworked for the far more popular Mass in B Minor, to the concluding notes of Vivaldi’s Gloria, there is not a false step, an uninteresting phrase, a less-than-involved reading of these scores.

Many other early-music groups sing and play with energy. So do the Tafelmusik performers; but they also sing and play with well-bound phrasing, outstanding legato, an extremely well-judged sense of rubato in the correct meaning of the term (too many performers, particularly from 40 years or more ago, misunderstood slow-downs as rubato, when in fact the term means “to steal,” which means that for every Luftpause there must be a corresponding abbreviation in one of the notes following). Listeners who know the Mass well will readily hear what they do in this Cantata.

The music of Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, completely unknown to me, has a certain sense of the type of religious-occasion music that I normally dislike, but again Tafelmusik’s performance breathes such fresh life into this ancient score that it catches one up in its rare enthusiasm. Listen, for just one detail, to the way the chorus separates the staccato notes on the phrase “et pra-e-cinx-it-se!” Without overdoing the stress accents one bit, they create tremendous musical tension. That is the mark of great musicians, regardless of era, style, or chosen instrument or group size. In the following trio, “Es enim firmavit,” guest tenor Colin Ainsworth joins two singers from the choir, countertenor Robert Kinar and bass Andrew Mahon. Folks, listen to this! They sound for all the world like a trio from the old New York Pro Musica, and their blend is flawless. In the ensuing “Parate sedes,” featured soprano Ann Monoyios is joined by another chorister, soprano Michele DeBoer. Again, the blend is perfect. This is how you sing Baroque vocal ensembles.

The ominous undercurrent of drama that the lower strings create at the beginning of “Elevaverunt flumina” must be heard to be believed; the women in the chorus, when they enter, sing snakelike 16th notes with incredible fluidity of rhythm. Monoyios’s soprano solo in “Testimonia tua” reveals more surprises: this is a singer with feeling, not just another cold, technically perfect soprano. She is a consistent delight to the ear and heart. Even in the stately opening of the final chorus of this motet, Tafelmusik does not let us down, and when the Allegro section enters, we are lifted rhythmically and in mood without being sledge hammered by clipped staccato piping.

Their musical excellence is continued still further in Vivaldi’s Gloria, the more familiar RV 589 as opposed to the less-well-known RV 588 (also in D). Rather than overwhelm the listener with ferocity of rhythm, as so many (one might say, too many) modern Vivaldi performers do, Tafelmusik emphasizes the legato of the vocal line, allowing the clipped rhythms of the accompanying orchestra to buoy the music along naturally rather than aggressively. It is a virtuoso turn.

This CD, as a unified concert, holds up remarkably well against all its competitors. Recorded in a beautifully vibrant-sounding recital hall that sounds for all the world like the nave of a church, the Sonics are simultaneous spacious and detailed. For those who think I’m an old crab when it comes to historically informed performances, I’ll say it again: this is how one should sing and play this music.FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley



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