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Off the beaten track

The Trinity-St. Paul's Centre
10/03/2013 -  & October 4*, 5, 6, 8, 2013
Johann Joseph Fux: Ouverture in D Minor
Heinrich I.F. Biber: Battalia – Sonata a 6 "Die Pauern Kirchfahrt"
Johann Schmelzer: Harmonia a 5
Philipp Jakob Rittler (attrib.): Harmonia Romana
Georg Muffat: Concerto Grosso XII "Propitia Sydera

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Manfredo Kraemer (leader)

M. Kraemer (© Tatiana Daubek)

This intriguing - even oddball - program was chosen by Tafelmusik’s guest leader, violinist Manfredo Kraemer, whose career has been devoted to exploring the byways of the vast baroque repertoire. A past member of Musica Antica Köln, he also founded the performing group The Rare Fruits Council.

This series of concerts is also notable in that the Tafelmusik audience gets to experience the first stage of the three-million-dollar makeover of the Trinity-St. Paul's Centre which has been the orchestra’s home for 34 years. The performance space also comes with a new name, Jeanne Lamon Hall, named in honour of the group’s leader who steps down this year after 33 dynamic years. Based on this first hearing, the results are a success already. Under Bob Essert (acoustician behind the successful Four Seasons Centre and Koerner Hall here in Toronto as well as venues internationally), the new platform and rebuilt walls bring about a nicer bloom and richer depth to the players’ sound. Not only this but more comfortable seating as well.

The program is billed as “Baroque Austria: Salzburg and Vienna”, but it ranges farther afield and, rather than stressing the sophisticated music of urban centres, the pieces chosen reflect the rural, folkish origins of what became salon music. The opening piece, Johann Joseph Fux’s Ouverture in D Minor (in this case “ouverture” means dance suite), has a menuet that is distinctly earthy. Johann Schmelzer’s Harmonia a 5 has a symphonia with lines that slip and slide in a surprising and downright indecorous manner, and a section in unusual (for the era) 5/4 time, a metre possibly reflecting its folk origins.

The two most unusual works are by Heinrich Biber. Battalia depicts a battle which is semi-staged with the two cellists aiming broadsides at one another. The battle itself is just the seventh section of the eight-part work. The most unusual is the second part titled Das liederliche Schwärmen der Musketiere ("The tuneful revelry of the musketeers") which has eight folk tunes all played at once. There is also a mock-serious march (more acting out here), and it ends with a Lamento der Vervundeten ("Lament of the wounded"), also mocking. It seems the battle was not a victory. Biber’s second work is his Sonata a 6, “Die Pauern-Kirchfahrt” ("The Peasants’ Church Procession”) which begins off-stage with repetitive phrases not entirely in unison; it also features the players shouting heartily.

The piece attributed to Philipp Jakob Rittler was found in the library of the Prince-Bishop of Olmütz (modern day Olomouc) who, like his counterpart in Salzburg, kept a noted orchestra. The title Harmonia Romana reflects an influence from Rome and composers there such as Stradella and Corelli. With the lead violin part highlighted the piece can be considered a pioneering concerto.

George Muffat was German but spent his youth in Paris when the dominant composer was Jean-Baptiste Lully so it’s no surprise that his Concerto Grosso XII (“Propitia Sydera” (“To appease the stars”) is such a graceful work even when things get lively in the fifth section Ciaconna un poco grave. The program notes refer to “euphoric pandemonium”; after the Biber pieces the pandemonium seems low-key, but the euphoria is certainly there.

We were treated to a “mystery” encore whose composer we had to guess. It consisted of a lot of heavy syncopation and I suspected it was a piece of modern jazz performed à la baroque - but it turned out to be by the prolific Georg Philip Telemann.

Overall, Manfredo Kraemer’s debut with the orchestra is certainly a success. Tafelmusik are sure to be seeking a replacement for Ms Lamon and one can’t help but speculate as to whether this was an initial date that could lead to future musical matrimony. Mr Kraemer seems to have a busy career in Germany, Spain and his native Argentina, but one never knows.

Michael Johnson



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