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Concert review: Tafelmusik's Brandenburg Concertos lose impact in translation to Koerner Hall

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Members of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra take a bow at the end of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 at Koerner Hall on Friday night (John Terauds iPhone photo).

Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra presented J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos — one of the Baroque masterpieces that put the period-instrument ensemble on the international map a generation ago — to start off its new season at Koerner Hall on Friday night. But the transfer from old Methodist church to modern concert hall was not as happy as it could have been.

Tafelmusik leader, violinist Jeanne Lamon, chose to present three of the Brandenburgs as well as Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 using one instrument per part, the form preferred by historically-informed interpreters. It was a great way to highlight the orchestra’s fabulous woodwinds and elegant continuo players, but the violins and viola were lost in the hall’s ample space and usually generous acoustics.

What should have been a celebration of elaborate contrapuntal writing wrapped in exuberant performances by some of the best Baroque interpreters anywhere sounded unbalanced until the final piece in the programme, which featured Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, which is all about the stringed instruments.

Finally, the sound had the balance and poise that everyone expects from these musicians. And it was an extra bonus to see and hear all 10 string players render the piece from memory, adding a further layer of  excitement.

These orchestral pieces by Bach are naturally exciting enough — the six Brandenburg Concertos, compiled and offered up to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721 being the world’s finest musical job application ever written.

Over the course of the half-dozen pieces, Bach shows off every trick in his compositional book, while also showcasing every instrument an early-18th century aristocrat would have wanted to have on call for his personal ballroom.

The Brandenburgs have long been Tafelmusik’s way of showing off the degree of interesting detail, grace and vitality that make these pieces leap off the page, and there was plenty of that musicianship to go around, including stellar solo turns by bassoonist Dominic Teresi and harpsichord player Charlotte Nediger in Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.

In the slow middle section of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, violinist Julia Wedman presented the violin solo with a degree of control and nuance unusual from a Baroque violin and its short bow in a relatively large concert space.

There is a lot to like about this all-Bach programme, which repeats at Koerner Hall to Sunday, and at George Weston Hall on Tuesday, but this particular combination of instruments on stage would have worked best at Tafelmusik’s more intimate longtime home at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre.

For details on this programme as well as tickets, click here.

John Terauds

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