Notes and Editorial Reviews
THE GALILEO PROJECT
Jeanne Lamon, dir; Tafelmusik Baroque O (period instruments)
TAFELMUSIK 1001 (DVD: 86: 47; CD: 56:54)
BACH, GALILEI, HANDEL, LULLY, MARINI, MERULA, MONTEVERDI, PURCELL, RAMEAU, TELEMANN, VIVALDI, WEISS, ZELENKA
In my review of Amarillis’s performances of J. C. Bach’s music elsewhere in this issue, I am quite hard on them for not only a lack of inspiration but an outright lack of involvement in anything they are playing. That is definitely something that cannot be said of Canada’s brilliant early-music group Tafelmusik. Everything it plays not only sounds enthusiastic but as if it were freshly written.
Thus it was an unalloyed pleasure to put the CD from this set on first to hear the group’s musical approach before watching the same works performed on the DVD. Just listen to the exquisitely shaded readings of the Marini Passacaglia or the Zelenka Adagio, then turn to the unbelievably enthusiastic readings of music by Lully and Rameau, the uplifting version of the Bach BWV 29 Sinfonia, or the way they bang the tambourine and bounce their way through the “Moresca” from Monteverdi’s
This is a group that
knows how to play, and convey its enthusiasm for the music to the listener.
The Galileo Project
came about via the intervention of Canadian astronomer John Percy, who also happened to be an enthusiastic fan of the group. When the U.N. announced its Year of Astronomy in 2009 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of the telescope, Percy arranged for Tafelmusik to get funding for this concert, which was first presented at the Banff Center.
The reason for the time discrepancy (a half hour) between the DVD and CD versions of the concert is the scripted text, delivered here by noted Scottish-Canadian actor Shaun Smyth. Written by Tafelmusik member Alison Mackay (she’s the redhead who plays bass for the band), it includes descriptions of the heavens, the legend of Phaeton, stories about Galileo and readings from his books, stories about Newton and Kepler, and through it all is woven music evocative of the spirit of what is being talked about. Smyth’s delivery is enthusiastic, and he sets a good tone for the program. In the background, a projector shows telescope photos of the heavens and illustrations of the scientists while the orchestra continually moves around in a circle (at least, the ambulatory ones, not the cello or bass players). One of the purposes for this movement, it turns out, is that on various pieces different members of the group play lead. This is a pretty scary group in which every single violinist or wind player is capable of being a soloist on any given number, but that’s just how good Tafelmusik is.
The bonus features of the DVD are what I can best describe as classical-music videos of Tafelmusik playing Rameau’s “Entrance of Jupiter,” Handel’s Allegro, and Lully’s Chaconne from
These have remarkable video graphics designed by Electric Square. In the first (combining the Rameau and Handel), the orchestra plays amid a giant pop-up book with pop-up buildings in a town square; as the music progresses and more instruments are heard, the musicians themselves pop up from the ground. It’s extremely clever. In the second video (the Lully Chaconne from
), they’re playing in the midst of a giant astrolabe/gyroscope, floating in space, which is highly effective.
If you are a fan of Tafelmusik or many of the works played here, this set is highly recommended, but if you’re also a fan of astronomy, the combination of the music, visuals, and spoken text is an unalloyed joy.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley