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Friday, November 28, 2008

A Fine Hour of Choral Music

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191 [14:31]
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de MONDONVILLE (1711-1772)
Grand motet, “Dominus regnavit” [24:34]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Gloria, RV 589 [28:19]

Ann Monoyios (soprano)
Matthew White (countertenor)
Colin Ainsworth (tenor)

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

Jeanne Lamon, music director
Ivars Taurins, chorus master and conductor

Recorded at the George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto, October 15-16, 2006.

CBC SMCD 5244 [67:40]

In a rather brilliant stroke of programming prowess, Ivars Taurins, who serves as chorus master for Toronto’s Tafelmusik baroque ensemble, takes the helm here for an absolutely delightful selection of works for chorus and orchestra. There is little as gratifying as a well crafted concert, and this disc provides us with a fine sampling of the familiar, the sort of familiar and the unusual, all performed with a great deal of panache.

Bach’s cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191 serves as the “sort of” familiar work. Listeners will immediately recognize the tunes as those from the Gloria of the Mass in b minor. This cantata, however, predates the mass, and was most likely used for a solemn service commemorating the Peace of Dresden that ended the second Silesian War. It was first heard on Christmas Day 1745, and the importance of the occasion is reflected in Bach’s choice of a Latin text, a rare occurrence in the Lutheran Church.

Graceful phrasing from the choir and soloists and a spot on choice of tempi makes this performance rewarding indeed. Ivars Taurins leads a spirited and engaging reading that is never breathless.

Rare indeed is an American performance of one of the many Grand motets that were staples of sacred music in France during the Baroque. What a treat it is to hear this setting of Psalm 93, a substantial work that was intended for concert and not liturgical use. The work of the three soloists is particularly satisfying, highlighted by some ravishingly beautiful trio ensemble singing. Conductors in the U. S. should take note of this splendid music and get it before American audiences more often.

Although he was an ordained priest, Antonio Vivaldi’s sacred music was very late in coming to light. Some sixty works survive and they were not discovered until the 1920’s when a significant collection of works for the church was discovered and cataloged in Turin. This Gloria was most likely written for the girls in the Ospedale della pieta, an orphanage cum conservatory where Vivaldi worked and taught for many years, thus explaining its sparse orchestration. It is undoubtedly one of the composer’s most popular and oft-performed choral works, and it receives a refreshingly light spirited performance here. Experienced choral listeners will enjoy the finely shaped phrases and the absence of 1950’s vintage lugubriousness of tempi that plague many older recordings of this music.

Well thought out repertoire choices, elegant performances and taut ensemble are the hallmarks of this delightful hour and then some, a collection sure to please amateur and professional listeners alike.

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