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Daily album review 17: Tafelmusik's burnished, golden Messiah moment captured on disc

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Conductor Ivars Taurins

It’s that time of year in Toronto, and what better way to invoke Messiah season than with last year’s exceptionally fine performances by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra at Koerner Hall.

Tafemusik Chamber Choir music director Ivars Taurins has been leading Tafelmusik’s annual performances of Handel’s evergreen 270-year-old oratorio for a generation, steadily honing the group’s historically informed performances into paragons of taste and individuality.

The ultimate success of a Messiah depends on the soloists as much as the orchestra and chorus. Tafelmusik struck vocal gold a year ago with brilliant Montreal soprano Karina Gauvin, British countertenor Robin Blaze, New York City-based tenor Rufus Müller and Toronto’s own magnificent bass-baritone Brett Polegato.

The people who walked in darkness truly did see — as well as hear — a great light when Polegato sang. We rejoiced greatly in Gauvin’s company. Blaze opened the eyes of the blind. And our hearts broke at Müller’s scornful rebukes.

The Tafelmusik Chamber Choir was beautifully balanced, the orchestra a burnished wonder of gentle texture and sharp rhythm.

All are captured cleanly on this album, which is remarkably free of coughs and other noises from the live cold-season audience, probably a sign of many hours of careful electronic editing.

I haven’t missed a Tafelmusik Messiah since 2001, so I have to admit I miss the extra bite of sound from the intimate confines of the orchestra’s home at Trinity-St Paul’s Church. The rounded edges and slightly distant quality of the recorded result is beautiful, but lacks the magnetic immediacy of a live experience.

That said, this is as fine a period-instrument performance of Messiah as you are likely to experience anywhere in the world right now. Captured on two CDs and available through Tafelmusik’s new in-house label, this living, breathing piece of 1742 can make every Torontonian proud.

You’ll find all the information on the album here.

Here is one of Tafelmusik’s promotional videos featuring Polegato’s magnificent contribution:

John Terauds

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