Stefano Montanari conducts Tafelmusik: Italianissimo! reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Wednesday, May 11, 2011. Trinity St.-Paul’s Centre, Toronto.

Stefano Montanari, third violinist from the left in this photo but unmistakably in charge, is whistling the melody as he leads Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s rehearsal for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Cristina Zacharias and cellist Allen Whear are smiling. That was in December 2009.

Last night, ‘Stefano’ was back in Toronto to lead Tafelmusik, this time sans violin due to a recent tendon injury. This time maestro Montanari conducted barehanded, as if talking in the Italian manner, with both hands; he had the whole orchestra smiling, and the audience along with them, as he made the most amazing music out of pretty standard classical fare.

He began this program of “Italianissimo!” compositions with a piece the 15 year old Mozart completed in Milan—Symphony no. 13 in F Major, K.112, scored for oboes and horns which lend bodied richness to the bouncy strings. Although his feet remain planted in a wide-apart stance, Montanari conducts like a dancer, with every part of his body sculpting  what he feels as he is imagining the music. The orchestra happily mirrors the maestro’s happy mind.

First violinist Aisslinn Nosky introduced the principle theme of Mozart’s andante, accompanied by broken chords from the second violins and violas. The flowing third movement is dotted with little surprises whenever Stephano stops conducting and lets the orchestra do what it knows how to do. The final rondo is athletic, with horns and winds jabbing and weaving towards a celebratory crescendo.

Nicolo Jommelli, who had studied with Mozart’s teacher, Martini, thirty years earlier, was said to have learned from Martini ‘the art of escaping any anguish or aridity’ in his music. And, like Mozart, Jommelli enjoyed escaping from sacred music by writing dozens of operas including a La Clemenza di Tito (1748) based on a libretto by Metastasio. Small world! Jommelli’s Ciaccona for orchestra is sad and sensuous, with low register chords punctuated by soft, explosive puffs from the strings. Ciaccona’s stately flow has opportunities for the oboes of John Abberger and Marco Cera to raise their plaintive voices.

Giuseppe Cambini who also studied with Mozart’s teacher, Martini, took Paris by storm around 1773 as a violinist and prolific composer especially of symphony concertante’s. Mozart blamed Cambini’s interference for the inexplicable cancellation of the Paris 1778 performance of his own Symphonie Concertante KV297b.

Cambini’s Simphonie concertante for 2 violins and orchestra in F Major is light and humorous, full of laughing rhythms and ripples. The highlight in this work is the running exchange of  tongue-in-cheek virtuosic cadenzas by violinists Aisslinn Nosky and Patricia Ahern. There was a similarly delightful interplay between and first violin and the two violas of Elly Winer and Patrick Jordan in the Concerto grosso in A Major “La Pazzia” by Francesco Durante.

Giovanni Sammartini, a younger contemporary of Bach, became a major celebrity in England for his oboe playing (in Handel’s orchestra) and for his concertos and sonatas. Sammartini’s Symphony in G Minor J-C 57 (with Charlotte Nediger’s harpsichord), has a slightly all-t00-familiar Brandenburgish feel which the horns redeem by adding the perspective of distance. The concluding allegro is punchy and boldly textured like a houndstooth check.

The last of the itinerant Italian composers we heard from this evening was Luigi Boccherini. He spent most of his career under royal patronage in Madrid, and is credited with advancing the roles in chamber music of his instrument, the cello, and the rhythmic tradition of the Spanish guitar.  Stefano Montanari set the pace of Boccherini’s Symphony no. 3 in D Major, G.503 at a ‘grave’, walk made stately by oboes. Sweet melodies and extraordinary jets of colours were summoned by the air-shapes Stefano drew in the textured air of the stage to end a magical evening.

Stefano Montanari returns to Toronto in the Fall to conduct Tafelmusik Orchestra in Opera Atelier’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

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