Daniel Hope & Friends: AIR – A Baroque Journey
Violinist Daniel Hope and friends. Royal Conservatory of Music. Koerner Hall. Nov. 3.
A sextet of international musicians managed a rare feat at Koerner Hall on Saturday night: they turned a classical concert into a party.
There was a lot about Berlin-based, English-born violinist Daniel Hope’s program that didn’t fit the regular classical mold. The first was the content, featuring pieces spanning the late Renaissance (late-16th century) to the mid-Baroque (early-18th century) eras.
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This repertoire — which included several composers whose names have faded into relative obscurity — meant that the sextet was operating as an Early Music consort.
Most of the composers on the bill were known in their day as fine violinists.
Although these six men — Hope with fellow violinist Simos Papanas (from Greece), cellist Nicola Mosca (Italy), lutenist Emanuele Forni (Italy), harpsichordist Naoki Kitaya (Japan) and percussionist Michael Metzler (Germany) — do not perform together full-time, they delivered the music with a playfulness and panache that suggested a long professional intimacy.
Their engaged, energetic and humour-filled music-making was infectious. That the program featured shorter works, many designed to allow free improvisation over a repeated bass line, lent the concert a freewheeling atmosphere that was more frolic than recital.
There is a collegiality and a freedom among performers of Early Music that isn’t always obvious with purveyors of 19th century and newer art music. And perhaps this could be a lesson to them: Supposedly serious music really can be enjoyed as pure entertainment.
Hope interspersed each piece with a bit of historical background and commentary, all kept light and breezy. The high points of the evening included three pieces by Johann Paul von Westhoff (1656-1705), who helped put the violin on the art-musical map in Germany.
The final piece of his, Imitation of the Lute, placed Hope in an intimate duet with Forni. It magically turned Koerner Hall into an intimate late-night drawing room. The delicate sounds also reminded us of how wonderful its acoustics really are.
Another inventive treat was the music of Neapolitan composer Andrea Falconieri (1585-1656). A Chaconne arranged by him closed the official program, garnering an instant, boisterous standing ovation from the audience.
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Toronto has excellent musicians specialized in Early Music in the Toronto Consort and Tafelmusik. But sometimes it is nice to have visitors blow in from another part of the world to inject a bit of extra spice into a familiar format. It helps keep the music fresh.
Daniel Hope has been a regular guest of the Royal Conservatory of Music’s concert series over its first decade. The next return concert is something to anticipate, whatever the genre may be.
Classical music writer John Terauds is a freelance contributor for the Star, based in Toronto. He is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JohnTerauds