Friday, May 13, 2011

Music review: Tafelmusik with Stefano Montanari - Italianissimo!

Mozart: Symphony no. 13 in F Major, K. 112
Jommelli: Ciaccona
Cambini: Sinfonia concertante for 2 violins and orchestra in F Major
Sammartini: Symphony in G Minor
Durante: Concerto in A Major for strings,“La Pazzia”
Boccherini: Symphony no. 3 in D Major

Last year, violinist and conductor Stefano Montanari joined Tafelmusik for a concert of Italian Baroque music including Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons that thrilled the audience with its hair-raising excitement, virtuosity and musicality. It was disappointing then to learn that an injury would prevent him from playing the violin this time around. But fortunately he made his return anyway as conductor for the final Tafelmusik program of the season.

Italianissimo! focused on lesser known late Baroque/early Classical Italian music but actually began with an early Mozart symphony. Nonetheless, that was an appropriate choice because it was written while he was visiting Italy. Right from the outset, the highly charismatic Montanari electrified the listeners with his dynamic and flamboyant conducting style that was like a period music version of the late great maestro Carlos Kleiber.

Like Kleiber, he moved like a dancer but it was in the service of the music. He didn’t simply beat time. Rather he shaped the music, directed the phrasing and made the orchestra sing. There was none of the plodding that can sometimes infect more careful and stodgy interpretations of early music. Everything breathed and moved forward.

That impeccable musicianship continued throughout the entirety of the program. He literally kept them on their toes, with everyone except the cellos and harpsichordist playing from a standing position. The changes in tempo and dynamics, whether sudden or gradual, where very precise, artful and dramatically effective.

Many of the principals had solos, especially Aisslinn Nosky who took the role of concertmaster in place of Music Director Jeanne Lamon. Her playing was very impassioned and fiery as well as technically impeccable. When called upon, 2nd Violin principal Patricia Ahern was able to match her stride for stride, especially in Cambini’s Sinfonia concertante.

This was dazzling, high-risk, go-for-the-gusto playing from everyone involved. Montanari’s enthusiasm was infectious and had all the musicians smiling and enjoying themselves. The only minor drawback was with the vigourous playing and the warmth made the tuning of the gut strings go out quicker. A violist even broke a string at one point in the second half. But they all adjusted quickly and many people wouldn’t have even noticed.

You have a few more chances to hear this outstanding program. On Friday, they have their usual pay-what-you-can tickets for those 30-years of age and under. On Tuesday, they will perform at George Weston Recital Hall with a free pre-concert lecture by Allen Whear. This is simply some of the best music-making you’ll be able to hear anywhere. 

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