Slightly ob­scure, but mag­i­cal


St­ef­fani: Drama & De­vo­tion

★★★★ (out of 4) Tafel­musik Baroque Orches­tra and Cham­ber Choir with mez­zoso­prano Krisztina Sz­abó. Ivars Tau­rins, con­duc­tor. Trin­ity-St Paul’s Cen­tre, 427 Bloor St. W. tafel­ or 416-964-6337 It’s not just es­tab­lished master­works that guar­an­tee a mag­i­cal con­cert. Tafel­musik proved this Thurs­day evening at the first per­for­mance of a pro­gram de­voted to the now-ob­scure Baroque-era com­poser Agostino St­ef­fani.

Not only was his mu­sic a rev­e­la­tion, the con­cert it­self was beau­ti­fully per­formed by the pe­riod-in­stru­ment Tafel­musik Orches­tra, Cham­ber Choir and guest soloist, Toronto-based mezzo-so­prano Krisztina Sz­abó.

Born near Venice in1654, St­ef­fani was ed­u­cated in both Ital­ian and French mu­si­cal styles be­fore spend­ing his time work­ing for Ger­man mas­ters, in­clud­ing the Elec­tor of Hanover, who would be­come King Ge­orge I of Eng­land.

By the time St­ef­fani died in 1728, he had gained re­spect as a bishop and a diplo­mat. He kept his hand in writ­ing mu­sic, as well.

We are for­tu­nate that his cre­ations sur­vived him and that ad­ven­tur­ous pe­riod mu­si­cians now pro­gram them.

Con­duc­tor Ivars Tau­rins’ se­lec­tion for the two-hour con­cert (in­clud­ing in­ter­mis­sion) was noth­ing short of bril­liant.

The first half of the pro­gram con­sisted of two sa­cred works, in­clud­ing an elab­o­rate set­ting of the Good Fri­day Sta­bat Mater text.

St­ef­fani con­sid­ered this his best cre­ation, ac­cord­ing to the pro­gram notes, and it’s easy to see why. The sen­si­tive, rich and colour­ful writ­ing was brought to vivid life by Sz­abó, the choir and soloists plucked from its ranks.

A par­tic­u­lar treat was Vic­to­ria Mar­shall, a mem­ber of the alto sec­tion, who made a fine duet part­ner with Sz­abó.

Where the open­ing set­ting of Bea­tus Vir, an early com­po­si­tion, con­tained clear echoes of Vene­tian church mu­sic from the school cen­tred on St Mark’s Cathe­dral, the Sta­bat Mater was some­thing even richer and more var­ied ion style.

Sz­abó has ma­tured into a re­mark­able artist, a master of nu­ance and ex­pres­siv­ity. She had a chance to re­ally shine in the se­cond half of the pro­gram, de­voted to St­ef­fani’s oper­atic out­put.

Tau­rins or­ga­nized the se­quence of pieces to mir­ror the arc of a dra­matic opera plot, in­ter­spers­ing arias, duets and cho­ruses with in­stru­men­tal in­ter­ludes. Rather than sound­ing like a patch­work, it be­came a seam­less jour­ney from stormy open­ing to happy res­o­lu­tion.

Al­though Sz­abó was cap­ti­vat­ing in the dra­matic open­ing and clos­ing mu­sic, the mu­sic that blew me away was “Sfere amiche” (Friendly spheres) from the 1688 opera Niobe.

This sooth­ing aria gave Sz­abó the op­por­tu­nity to plumb the sub­tleties of fine singing.

This was the very essence of mu­si­cal en­chant­ment, where singer and orches­tra be­came one in a jour­ney that took us far beyond our­selves.

The whole pro­gram is so com­pelling that it is worth snatch­ing a ticket be­fore the last per­for­mance at Trin­ity-St Paul’s Cen­tre on Sun­day.

I would also rec­om­mend that Tau­rins & Co. make plans to record it, so even more peo­ple can bask in its won­ders. Clas­si­cal mu­sic writer John Terauds is a free­lance con­trib­u­tor for the Star, based in Toronto. He is sup­ported by the Ru­bin In­sti­tute for Mu­sic Crit­i­cism, San Fran­cisco Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic and Ann and Gor­don Getty Foun­da­tion. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @JohnTer­auds


Krisztina Sz­abó is re­mark­able in St­ef­fani, John Terauds says.

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