There are certain pieces of music, like Mozart’s Requiem, that, when done well, overshadow everything in their midst.
That’s what happened on Thursday night when conductor Ivars Taurins led Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir, as well as four great soloists, in the first of four performances of that masterpiece at Koerner Hall.
Taurins had designed the programme to build towards the Requiem, excavating the ground with a 21-year-old Mozart’s anthem, Sancta Maria, mater, K. 273, pouring the footings with a mournful aria by Johann Christoph Bach (a cousin of Johann Sebastian’s) and a motet by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and laying the foundations with Mozart’s string orchestration of three J.S. Bach fugues.
The final musical gesture of the evening’s first half was Mozart’s well-known Ave verum, corpus, K.618, written a few months before his death in 1791.
Then, after intermission, out came the great Requiem, in its full-length version completed by Mozart’s students and edited by modern scholar H.C. Robbins Landon.
It was a great interpretation. Taurins pushed both instrumentalists and singers for maximum dynamic range, highlighting all sorts of interesting textures in the score — and often highlighting quick tempi.
All of this successfully served the emotional impact of the music. It helped that the four excellent soloists — soprano Nathalie Paulin, mezzo Laura Pudwell, tenor Lawrence Wiliford and baritone Nathaniel Watson — were solid on their own as well as singing nicely as an ensemble.
This was the sort of edge-of-the-seat interpretation that reconfirmed why certain pieces of music are timeless treasures.
Because the pieces in the first half of the concert lacked the unity of Requiem, the evening felt a bit lopsided. It also didn’t help that the multi-verse Bach-family motets were quite simply not interesting pieces of music, and their introspective, downcast texts did little to engage with our modern sensibilities.
But the choir sang well.
The Bach fugues, led by violinist Patricia Ahern from Jeanne Lamon’s usual chair, were a different matter, though. These gorgeous pieces of counterpoint found graceful, fresh life in the simple, unforced playing from the string players.
These fugues are such remarkable works that they could stand up to the Requiem, and, in fact, they helped concentrate our focus on Mozart’s own clever use of counterpoint.
Quibbles aside, this programme is a strong musical experience that has sold out its Koerner Hall run.