An anniversary is undeniably a time for celebration, a time to reflect on past accomplishments whilst keeping the future in close view. This was the case for Tafelmusik’s Chamber Choir on the eve of their 30th anniversary. Choir director and conductor Ivars Taurins selected a vast variety of repertoire showcasing the choir’s skill through 17th- and 18th-century works, progressing into music of more recent composers. With this exulting programme, Taurins masterfully presented an assortment of sacred and secular works which complemented each other well.

Tafelmusik © Keith Saunders
Tafelmusik
© Keith Saunders

The evening commenced with the triumphant sound of baroque trumpet and upper strings in the ecstatic setting of J.S. Bach’s “Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens” from Cantata 148. The melodic orchestral introduction led into an energetic choir entry. At first, the choir was difficult to hear; however, the balance was promptly adjusted to allow the voices to rise above the orchestra. This led into an a cappella setting of the Gloria from the Mass for double choir by 20th-century composer Frank Martin. The soft, delicate entries built into an exuberant crescendo through a piece which truly allowed the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir to display their vast skills. The performance was rich with musical nuance, from distinguished rubato to pristine clarity, especially in the vocal lines. The choir filled the hall with radiance, even without the orchestra. The immense discipline and control was evident from their incredible connection to Maestro Taurins. Each gesture he made was clear and embraced by the singers.

Poulenc’s “Tristis est anima mea” from his Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence began with an angelic soprano solo, which led into a powerful tutti. The contrast between drawn-out melodic lines and the lively dialogues was executed with accuracy, meticulously ensuring each attack and release to be precise. The remainder of the first half featured a solemn work by Charpentier, crisp melismas in Gesualdo’s O vos omnes, an exuberant John Tavener composition, and two remarkable contrasting pieces by J.S. Bach. Bach’s Der Gerechte kommt um featured a lovely string and oboe introduction whose accompaniment helped illuminate the choir on entry. This led into an exclamation of Alleluias sung over remarkable sustained voices in John Tavener’s As One who has Slept.

The second half featured secular works, and opened with the sound of Maestro Taurins leading the orchestra on the drum for Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Forêts paisibles. The orchestra created a festive and celebratory mood. The melody in the upper strings proved that baroque instruments can sound modern, creating a pop-music-like sound. The collaboration between orchestra and choir was stellar. This was followed by another piece representing the theme of love: the premiere performance of Garden, by Toronto composer James Rolfe. The soft, melodic opening provided a perfect balance between the melody and accompanying lines. Rolfe divides the love poem between the women and the men, writing a progressive dialogue between these two sections. The immense climbing motifs built in intensity to a blissful forte where all voices united and sung to an emotional finish.

Tafelmusik returned to Rameau with “Tendre Amour,” another selection from his ballet Les Indes Galantes. The opening harpsichord glissando led the orchestra into a very light accompaniment which allowed the choir to float over the instrumental lines. This enhanced the emotions and let the romanticism flow through the hall. The theme of love turned into one of celebration with a majestic performance of Handel’s “Non tardate” from Handel’s Parnasso in festa. The love theme was rejuvenated through Lauridsen’s La Rose Complète and Poulenc’s “Belle et Ressemblante” and “À Peine Défigurée” from Sept Chansons.

The final three works of the evening were dramatic and grandiose, setting the stage for the perfect grand finale for Tafelmusik’s 30th Anniversary. Eric Whitacre’s Water Night displayed the effective dynamic contrasts with sudden fortes which echoed through the hall. The choir maintained incredible intonation during the intertwining melodies between the bass and soprano voices. The constant flowing lines progressed with immense emotion, passion, and clarity. Handel’s “Cantiam a Bacco” (again from Parnasso in festa) was exclamatory in celebration. The festive energy surged through the audience. The various solos towards the end of the piece added a delightful contrast. The final fireworks came in the form of Bach’s “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied,” which saw an exuberant trumpet fanfare lead Tafelmusik through an array of melismas, crescendos, and climactic arpeggios in a true team effort to cap off the 30th anniversary concert.

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