Some of the instruments that the members of Tafelmusik play on may sometimes be considered the dinosaurs of the string-instrument family. Nevertheless, the members of this internationally lauded Baroque orchestra have a knack for delivering fresh and lively performances, presenting the Baroque and Classical repertoire in such an invigorating way that it feels as current as a Justin Bieber hit. The musicians are always energized on stage, and delight in provoking each other into musical banter and competition. With guest soloist Marion Verbruggen joining the group on recorder, the spunk on stage was at a high, and the artists blazed through their program of challenging and entertaining repertoire.

Members of Tafelmusik, © Cylla von Tiedemann
Members of Tafelmusik,
© Cylla von Tiedemann

The first half of the program featured concertos by Telemann and Vivaldi. Telemann’s Concerto for recorder and bassoon in F major opened the concert in a friendly manner, and the ensemble showed impressive dynamic contrast and a warm tone. The artists were truly functioning as chamber musicians, with everyone contributing equally, even tutti players always attentive and ready for anything. The two soloists for this piece, Marion Verbruggen on recorder and Dominic Teresi on bassoon, had an excellent rapport, often glancing at each other playfully, or even mockingly. For the second piece, Vivaldi’s Concerto for viola d’amore and lute in D minor, there were plenty of strings to go around. Thomas Georgi played beautifully longing solos on the viola d’amore, and Lucas Harris on the archlute danced around Georgi with fluttering arpeggios. In the last movement, these period instruments lent themselves well to modern virtuosity, as in the flying ricochet strokes from Georgi on the viola d’amore.

The third piece featured Verbruggen returning on the sopranino recorder for Vivaldi’s Concerto for sopranino recorder in C major. This fantastic instrument is tiny and its sound lives in the highest registers. One must be very delicate, both in breath and touch, to play this instrument well – the slightest hint of aggression of intention can cause trouble in the sound. Of course Verbruggen showed no signs of difficulty, even with the challenging register leaps of the last movement. She whizzed through the speedy virtuosic lines with the adept handling of a racecar driver, every breath energized but never something the sopranino recorder couldn’t handle.

When members of the orchestra rotated out, they wouldn’t sit in the green room; rather, they would take a seat at the back of the stage to watch their colleagues. It was a great thing to see players that took as much joy in listening to music as they did in playing it. The second half of the program featured works by van Eyck, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Vivaldi. Jacob van Eyck’s Variations on “Amarilli mia bella” from his recorder music collection Der Fluyten Lust-Hof was a very interesting diversion from the rest of the program. Featuring Verbruggen on solo recorder without the orchestra, this piece from the early 17th century had an almost mystical, magical sound to it. The ominous long notes and pitch-bending gave it an ancient feel, a piece from a time without science. It was a lovely oasis of foreign sound in the concert.

When the orchestra returned for Vivaldi’s Concerto for mandolin in C major, the upper strings took their spots, but then suddenly walked to the back of the stage to place their bows down. The reason for this became apparent at the start of the movement, with the upper strings playing blisteringly fast pizzicatos, almost matching the virtuosic strumming of the mandolin. This piece features expectant pauses, and the performers definitely relished in them. They held the silences as long as they could bear, looking at each other playfully, and the audience even laughed out loud at them for this teasing.

Scarlatti’s Sonata for recorder, 2 violins and continuo in A minor was well played, but the real treat was the piece that followed it, ending the concert – Vivaldi’s Concerto for recorder in F major, “La tempesta di mare” (“Storm at sea”). One of Vivaldi’s most famous works, it evokes the stormy oceans with which seaside dwellers of Vivaldi’s time were all too familiar. The orchestra embraced the rocking waves of the opening, with the lower strings grumbling up from the depths meeting the upper strings at foamy peaks. Verbruggen swirled around the orchestra with such fast playing that her fingers seemed a blur on the instrument. She provoked the orchestra with upward scales, and the orchestra provoked her back. The concert ended with thunderous applause from the audience, apparently delighted by the ride on the waves they had just experienced.