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Gauvin; Blaze, Müller, Polegato. Tafelmuski, Taurins. English text. TMK 1016
Our representatives in Washington may be consistently unwilling to reach any sort of Grand Bargain, but this new recording of Messiah is something of a summation and reconciliation of Handelian performance practice. Under Ivars Taurins, Toronto-based Tafelmusik performs the oratorio with a trim but not ascetic contingent of twenty-four choral singers and twenty-five instrumentalists. Tempo choices are persuasive, with "And the glory of the Lord," "If God be with us" and "O thou that tellest" emerging as light-footed dances. The Pastoral Symphony is countrified with a prominent drone and rustic trills, making a neat heaven-and-earth contrast with the ensuing visit of the angel. "Surely He hath borne our griefs" moves into "And with His stripes" at the same striding pulse. Ornaments and cadenzas are present but not obtrusive. The rip-roaring fast interpretations of "For He is like a refiner's fire" and "Why do the nations" never veer out of control. Da caporepeats are used to deepen the drama in the way a stage director might: "He was despised" moves from description to empathy, while an initially dainty, spacious and careful "The trumpet shall sound" moves into conviction when the music is repeated. The only real ear-catching novelty is a trill on the word "reineth" in the "Hallelujah" chorus, but this is defensible, indeed perhaps necessary, in harmonic terms.
The choral singers are capable of anything that Taurins demands. This includes the way legato singing in the passages of rapid runs is eschewed in favor of clarity and the maintenance of an essentially sarcastic interpretation of "He trusted in God." There are reasons to prefer a boy in the soprano solos rather than an adult woman, but Karina Gauvin shows the benefits of a mature voice in the consoling quality of her tone. The middle section of "Rejoice greatly" even sounds relieved. Alto Robin Blaze offers a very appealing approach to slight inflections of rhythm. Tenor Rufus Müller goes from strength to strength. Here he shows both real technique and communicative powers. He is stylistically aware of Baroque practices, but he also has masculinity and full-throatedness. Bass Brett Polegato similarly makes every note tell. "Thus saith the Lord" is assertive as Beethoven's Ninth, but "The people that walked in darkness" is moody and atmospheric. All in all, this Messiah is a rapprochement that never feels like a compromise.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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