Whether this disc picks up a Juno or not, it’s a winner by any measure. With six composers and a covey of talented soloists aided and abetted by Canada’s little orchestra that can, this collection is a most welcome addition to any music-lover’s stash.
At either end of the generous offerings (well over seventy minutes) are two wee gems from the Red Priest. Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor for Two Oboes and Strings features the affable and vibrant work of John Abberger and Christopher Palametta, as well as the early news that this recording promises to be beautifully balanced (John D.S. Adams, recording engineer). An hour later, the concert shuts down with an attempt at Surround Sound (Concerto in E Minor for Four Violins). Notably, there is the final “Allegro,” a triple-metre celebration of all things Baroque: cascading lines, multi-layered suspensions, rhythmically intriguing hemiolas and cadential construction—a two -minute primer on the state of his art.
The remaining works have different palettes and a variety of featured performers.
Bar for bar, the best of the bunch is Leo’s D Minor Concerto. Cellist Christina Mahler brings passionate authority to the solo line—a pleasure from the first bow. Especially fine is the “Amoroso,” which unfolds marvellously into the ear. This tempo is ideal: fast enough to maintain direction, slow enough to allow the introspective mood to be at one with the phrases. Despite the high-pitched scream from the violins, the Finale amply displays Mahler’s technical acumen. Her near-saucy delivery and the whipped-up fiddles combine for a zesty performance that demand many encores.
The Bach “concerto” (three cantata arias stitched together by Jeanne Lamon and realized by John Abberger) doesn’t succeed until the third frame. The darkly expressive tone of Abberger’s oboe d’amore and savvy breath-plot still can’t compare to the human voice. Accordingly, the first movement comes across too vertical and the second’s lugubrious pace can’t find the inner tension. But everything works beautifully in the third. The sprightly speed and “snap-crackle-pop” ensemble suits the music and the practitioners to a tee.
Nonetheless, the opening pair might find a new life on the other side of the street. Imagine Michael Kaeshammer and Chris Gale's soprano sax employing their special skills to this repertoire (cross-reference below)!
The Locatelli Concerto Grosso’s concertino group (particularly welcome is Lucas Harris’ discreet guitar-jazzy-romp-with verve), are appropriately austere in the “Largo,” barely surviving their rough-and-ready dash to the calmo’s last hurrah of the “Allegro”—quite an excursion in less than nine minutes!
Bassoonist Dominic Teresi brings a light-caramel colour to the Fasch concerto, but can’t rise above the more present sound of his double-reed colleagues. His technical chops are first rate and only a few quibbling pitch vagaries mar the effect of the “Largo.” Unfortunately, the last “Allegro” seems one rehearsal shy of surety. The tempo never settles, frequently putting the soli at odds with the continuo.
Handel’s magical and alluringly off-beat Op. 6, No. 4 gets a sturdy, if harmonically-basic reading. Many of the subtle weights in the bass-line were left untouched, rendering the “Larghetto affettuoso” pleasant rather than profound. Similarly, aside from the surprisingly brutal first bass entry, the ensuing “Allegro” remained anemic. But then the tide turned. The bass-heavy “Largo e piano” is a marvel in every other way and the exuberant Finale immediately reclaims the high degree of excellence for which Tafelmusik Orchestra is deservedly known. JWR