Perhaps there’s no such thing as an entirely typical Tafelmusik concert – but Thursday night’s program at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church, titled “Baroque Misbehaving,” was especially unusual, for a couple of reasons.
First, it threw a spotlight on Aisslinn Nosky, who can usually be found playing in Tafelmusik’s violin section. For this program, she was front and centre as both a concertmaster and soloist.
Second, mixed in among various Baroque bon-bons was a world premiere by the Montreal-based composer Michael Oesterle – a piece called Snow White. In her opening remarks, Nosky noted that “It’s not every day we get to play a piece written in the 21st century.”
And perhaps there was more to the concert than met the eye. Tafelmusik is currently an ensemble at a crossroads – and as Jeanne Lamon waves a long goodbye, after serving for more than three decades as the band’s (almost) only artistic director ever, it was hard not to suspect that “Baroque Misbehaving” was also Nosky’s audition for the top job.
Nosky wasted no time establishing her clear leadership skills in Henry Purcell’s Suite from Abdelazar. Brisk tempos, emphatically dotted rhythms, and strikingly accented offbeats made for a lively performance.
In Johann Rosenmüller’s intimate Sonata 2 a due, Nosky and Christopher Verrette (the other violinist in the “a due” configuration) were nicely balanced. As well, the performance offered greater insight into the kind of violinist Nosky is. Like a true Tafelmusiker, she wields a nimble bow, likes to lean into phrases, and pushes and pulls on the beat just a hair, for expressive purposes. If she were to become Tafelmusik’s next artistic director, it doesn’t seem likely that she’d strive to change the orchestra’s distinctive sound much.
I wasn’t especially fond of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Suite from Circé. To my ears, the relentless tutti orchestration of this six-movement suite sounded “chunky” and grew rather dull. I suspect this problem could have been helpfully addressed with some imaginative leadership from Nosky, but this didn’t happen.
However, Giusesppe Torelli’s Concerto Grosso in E Minor Op. 8 No. 9 was a different story. Here Nosky shone as both a soloist and leader. Although some double-stops were clearly a challenge for her, she found many ways to infuse this piece with variety and energy. As well, her virtuosic passage-work in the last movement was very impressive.
Oesterle’s Snow White was another showpiece for Nosky, written so that she was playing constantly. Stylistically, the piece was a remarkable synthesis of ideas: Vivaldi meets Philip Glass with some Aaron Copland and Celtic fiddling thrown in. It was also a tricky piece for a conductorless ensemble, with sudden changes in tempo, texture and mood.
Yet despite its challenges and disparate influences, Snow White was well put together, and there was never a dull moment.
For the finale, the full complement of players was brought to the stage (on this occasion, this was strings, harpsichord, bassoon and a pair of oboes) for Georg Philipp Telemann’s Orchestral Suite in C Major. This meaty, satisfying piece featured the woodwinds as soloists – and they rose to the occasion with strong and spirited performances.
Is Nosky in the running for the job of artistic director? Perhaps. But if she is, she’ll be up against HIP musicians (probably, but not necessarily, other violinists) from across Canada and around the world.
Still, there’s something appealing about the idea of a home-team contender who stands a good chance against national or international competitors. That home-team contender could be Nosky.
© Colin Eatock 2015