Tafelmusik reviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald
Spirited delight of ancient analogy between music and cosmos
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
March 7, 2012
The towering figures behind this concert were Galileo Galilei, the great astronomer persecuted by the Inquisition for speaking beautiful truths about planetary motion, and Isaac Newton, who evolved eternal laws of motion from those truths.
Around animated readings by actor Shaun Smyth from these pillars of discovery, Tafelmusik, with director Jeanne Lamon, offered musical tributes, impressively playing the entire program from memory, and moving around the hall like attendant spirits. Only Bach’s appearance at the end, with the chorale setting and sinfonia Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern, placed the music on the level of these giants.
The rest, appropriately enough, was in the spirit of tablemusic, played with engaging spirit and fluency. Buoyancy and natural musical ease was the defining impression of the evening, even when intonation frayed towards the end of the performance.
That buoyancy erupted like a starburst at the start in two movements from Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 violins in A major, opus 3, no. 5. Lully’s opera Phaeton, after Ovid, warns of over-reaching astronomical ambition when the young son of Apollo takes dad’s celestial chariot for a spin, and music by Monteverdi, Merula and Marini was interspersed with descriptions of Galileo’s house arrest. The solace he took from playing the lute was captured with expressive freedom in an affective performance by lutenist Lucas Harris of a piece by Michelagnolo Galilei.
The second half recreated parts of a spectacular Baroque extravagance, a month-long festival of the planets commemorating a royal wedding in Dresden in 1719 in which music by Handel, Telemann, Zelenka, Rameau and Lully (by then dead) played a part.
A century earlier, the German astronomer Kepler had revived the ancient concept of the harmony of the spheres, which draws analogy between planetary motion and the ratios of musical intervals.
Tafelmusik’s performance of the Bach chorale tellingly interspliced Kepler’s fanciful intervals for each of the known planets (depressed by the miseries of the Thirty Years War, Kepler gave Earth a mournful semitone).
Today it is easy to find the ancient analogy between music and the cosmos naive. This concert endowed it again with spirited delight and wonder.