Ensemble brings modern sensibility to Mozart
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.