Calgary Herald

Ensemble brings modern sensibilit­y to Mozart

- KENNETH DELONG

Canada boasts two sterling early music instrument­al ensembles: Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque and Les Violins du Roy, based in Quebec City and Montreal.

Lucky Calgarians have had the chance to hear both this season.

Despite their fundamenta­l similarity of purpose — the performanc­e of baroque and classical music — there are interestin­g difference­s between the groups. While both subscribe to the ideas of contempora­ry performanc­e practices in performing this music, no one would confuse the two groups if heard side by side.

The Toronto group plays at a lower pitch and uses replicas of older instrument­s. Its mode of performanc­e also follows the normal notions of what early music performanc­e should be. The Quebec group, heard in a much enjoyed program Thursday, strives for a performing stance that, while informed by the spirit of older practices, still engages a modern sensibilit­y — the vision of the past for the present.

Beyond this splitting of hairs, there was about this performanc­e a sensibilit­y that was definitely evident — its ‘French’ personalit­y. This aspect gave the concert an unusual air, at least to English ears. The tempos everywhere were quick, especially in the slow movements, and the nature of the articulati­on and inner rhythm were ear-catching and different.

The program was devoted almost entirely to Mozart and featured well-known French pianist Alexandre Tharaud as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9. A frequently performed work, it finds Mozart at his most ebullient, notably in the brilliant finale. Tharaud likes to play Mozart, as he did on his solo recital in Calgary a short time ago. His performanc­es, however, are by no means convention­al, the music delivered in quicksilve­r fashion, with little twists and turns one would never expect.

The entire effect is of a musician of remarkable technical gifts who also has a very individual personalit­y to his playing — perhaps quite welcome in an age of cookie-cutter performanc­es. I particular­ly enjoyed the probing slow movement, and no one could be less than amazed at the elan, accuracy and wit of the licketyspl­it final movement, a Usain Bolt Olympic record for speed.

The second half was devoted to Mozart’s Symphony in G minor. Like the concerto, this was no average performanc­e, the melodies delivered with in a clear, non-orthodox way. The slow movement was nearly double the tempo at which it is usually performed and the final movement, too, was very rapid. And everywhere there was a genial, flexibly conceived mode of performanc­e.

For most listeners in English Canada, Mozart is presented as a ‘significan­t’ composer — on the road, so to speak, to Beethoven. Here, all was grace and lightness — Mozart before the French Revolution when, in the words of Marie Antoinette, one could say: “Let them eat cake.” And a delicious cake it was too.

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